Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - July - 2005 Issue

British Gardening Books from Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books

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British Gardening Books from Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books.


By Michael Stillman

Bernard J Shapero Rare Books
recently issued a catalogue of "British Gardening Books." This is an outstanding collection of old gardening books, some among the earliest such books in the English language, dating back as far as the 16th century. Unlike many other similarly old books, there is much within them still applicable today, though certainly some techniques have changed. You could still grow a nice garden following the advice these books give, though you probably wouldn't want to follow recommendations offered in, say, medical treatises from the same period. Some ideas age better than others.

One of the bonuses in collecting gardening books is that often they are among the more richly illustrated editions. Books showing flowers, or country estates, are almost certainly going to have some of the more attractive illustrations. Even more practical guides, such as those for growing fruit trees or vegetables, can carry illustrations that could pose for art. Many of the books Shapero offers in this catalogue are as beautiful as they were practical in the years in which they were written.

Sir Joseph Banks was one of Britain's greatest Botanists. In the late 18th century, he financed several expeditions to locate unknown varieties of plants. Perhaps most famous is his raising funds for nine colleagues to accompany Captain Cook in his expedition aboard the "Endeavour" to Australia. They discovered over 800 previously unknown plants. Banks was the one who named Australia's "Botany Bay." However, other commitments kept Banks busy after he returned, and with co-author Daniel Solander's death in 1782, the book went unpublished. The first edition of this three-volume set was not released until 1900-1905. Item 12 is a copy of this set, Illustrations of Australian plants collected in 1770 during Captain Cook's voyage around the world in H.M.S. Endeavor... Priced at L4,000.

Item 40 is described as the first Scottish agricultural work, Husbandry anatomized, or an enquiry into the present manner of teiling and manuring the ground in Scotland... by James Donaldson. This is a second edition from 1697, although it is frequently cited as the first as the 1696 edition is almost unknown. Donaldson provided advice not only on soil preparation and planting, but on keeping horses, cattle and sheep. There is even a bit of financial information on managing a 60-acre plot. L3,400.

Item 133 is described as "a classic of nineteenth century moss literature." This is probably not the most competitive category in which to be named a classic. How much nineteenth century moss literature can there be? Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly one of the best. Author Robert Rennie provides information on the formation of moss and classifications of various types. The book is, Essays on the natural history of peat moss... L140.

Rare Book Monthly

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