Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - March - 2016 Issue

Fine Books, Manuscripts, and Leaves from Phillip J. Pirages

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Books, manuscripts, and leaves.

Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts published a selection of Some Books, Illuminated Manuscripts, and Single Manuscript and Printed Leaves To Be Exhibited at the 49th California International Book Fair in Pasadena. That title could be updated to "were exhibited" as the fair took place two weeks ago, but everything else remains the same. This is all topnotch material, most of it very old, and beyond that, the title describes what is here well. So, we will move on to a few examples of the type of material Pirages offers.

 

Charles Cotton was certainly a compleat man. A writer and poet of 17th century England, he is best remembered as contributor to the most notable of all sporting books, The Compleat Angler, the fishing text written primarily by his friend and fishing buddy Izaak Walton. Item 46 is a sort-of sporting book Cotton wrote about gaming, The Compleat Gamester. It focuses on card games, but includes others such as dice, billiards, chess, archery, bowling, horse racing and cock fighting. The common thread through most of these is gambling. Originally published in 1674, it was long recognized as the standard English reference on gaming. Offered is the 1725 fifth edition, which was updated (by others) to include games not in the original edition. Priced at $3,500.

 

Next up is one of the more eye-opening books ever published. Item 60 is Micrographia: or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses, by Robert Hooke, published in 1667. Hooke had developed the most powerful microscope at the time, which he then used to look at all things very small. He drew what he saw and published the images, along with scientific text, describing what was there. A few of the images, such as the flea and louse, are most unpleasant when blown up to be the size of a small mammal. $45,000.

 

Some books are beyond description in words. This is one of them. The book is Poèmes by Francis Thompson, published in 1939. It is not Thompson's poems that are beyond description. They could simply be copied if need be. It is the binding that cannot in any reasonable way be described with words. Terms like "spectacular" do not do it justice. With radiating, three dimensional curved lines in gilt, inlaid gold and a flower-like colored design at the center (both front and back covers) it needs to be seen to be appreciated. The binding is the work of Paul Bonet, one of the greatest French binders of the 20th century. Pirages describes it as "Without doubt the finest 20th century continental binding we have ever offered for sale, and among the most beautiful modern bindings of any kind that we have owned..." Item 16. $45,000.

 

Item 5 is an account of a the work of a notable missionary among the Indians: Mirabilia Dei inter Indicos, or the Rise and Progress of a Remarkable Work of Grace Amongst a Number of the Indians. The author was the missionary, David Brainerd, the book published in 1746. Brainerd had a religious awakening as a young man. He attended Yale University to train to become a minister, only to be thrown out for making derogatory remarks about a tutor whom he felt to be insufficiently zealous. It limited Brainerd's options, leading him to become a missionary. At that he was devoted, spending three years in New Jersey and Pennsylvania converting the Indians. Unfortunately, his health soon deteriorated, leading him to move into the home of the famed divine and leader in the Second Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards. He died there a year later. Edwards wrote a book about Brainerd, and with the former's reputation, it sealed Brainerd's name as an example of great piety and devotion. Brainerd's book was printed by the younger William Bradford, notable for his support of the American revolutionary cause a few decades later. $4,500.

 

This book can well be described as the masterpiece of the private, fine press movement. It is the work of William Morris' Kelmscott Press, The Works, by Geoffrey Chaucer, published in 1896. It is best known simply as the Kelmscott Chaucer. The Kelmscott Press only lasted five years, the result of Morris' death and a decision to close it after the projects he started were concluded. Nevertheless, its reputation is that of the finest of the fine presses. This was their signature work. Item 64. $95,000.

 

Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts may be reached at 503-472-0476 or info@pirages.com. Their website is www.pirages.com.

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