Oak Knoll Books has published their Catalogue 310 A Spring Catalogue of Books about Books. The catalogue is broken into separate sections, which gives a good idea of what you will find in a catalogue of "books about books:" Featured Books; Bookbinding; Book Illustration & Book Design; Book Selling, Collecting, and Publishing History; Fine & Private Press; Printing History & Type Specimens; Papermaking, Marbling, & Specimens; General Books-about-Books; Bibliography and Reference; and Miscellaneous. That final category allows for a few items that push the border of being books about books. Here are a few "specimens" from this catalogue
We begin with the most thorough examination of the man who was, if not the greatest book collector ever, the most voluminous. Sir Thomas Phillipps was a 19th century collector who made the most serious attempt of anyone to obtain a copy of every book and manuscript in existence. Of course, that is an impossible goal, but give Phillipps credit for trying. Every room in his home was filled to the ceiling with books and manuscripts, leaving barely enough room to get around. While he had a decent amount of money, he was always going broke as every cent he could find went to buying more works. While his book collection was large, it was his manuscripts that were of greatest note. Manuscripts, by their nature, tend to be one of a kind, and were it not for Phillipps' obsession, many that he saved would have been lost forever. After his death, Phillipps' collection was dispersed in a series of sales, that continued for over a century. Item 67 is the five-volume Phillips Studies, produced by the bibliographic scholar A. N. L. Munby. The set, which covers both Phillips' collection, his personal affairs, and the dispersal of his library, was published from 1951-1960. Priced at $450.
The reason it took so long to disperse the Phillipps' collection was partly because of its size and partly the will of Thomas Phillipps, who wished it remain together. It took over a decade before courts reduced Phillipps' stipulations which enabled the material to be sold. Over the next 50 years, sales were supervised by Phillipps' grandson, Thomas Fitzroy Phillipps Fenwick. In 1935, A. E. Popham published a catalogue of a specific portion of the material collected by Phillipps' still held at that time by Fenwick: Catalogue of Drawings Formed by Sir Thomas Phillipps, Bart., F. R. S., Now in the Possession of His Grandson T. Fitzroy Phillipps Fenwick of Thirlestaine House, Cheltenham. It was privately printed for Fenwick. Thirlestaine House was also the residence and site of the collection for Phillipps. Fenwick died three years later, and in 1946 most of the Phillipps' collection of drawings was obtained by the British Museum. Item 46. $650.
As long as we are covering large, eccentric book collectors whose collections were sold many years after they died, how about William Beckford? Beckford inherited a fortune from his father, for which he had a very appropriate use – spending it. He spent a fortune building a huge Gothic estate, Fonthill Abbey, which he filled with books. Unfortunately, soon after its completion, he could no longer afford the place, which suffered from shoddy workmanship. He sold and moved to another fine residence, Hamilton Palace, where he remained until the end of his life in 1844. While he had sold many of his books earlier, Beckford still retained a major collection at the time of his death. It remained with the family for almost 40 more years until being sold by Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge from 1882-1884. Item 56 is the Catalogue of the First (to fourth) Portion of the Beckford Library Removed from Hamilton Palace. These catalogues include penned in prices and names of buyers in the margins. $800.
There have been some noted book forgers over the years, but none top Thomas James Wise. Wise was a highly respected scholar, collector, and bibliographer. Unfortunately, he helped support himself by constructing forgeries. Wise didn't just copy existing books, but he would invent earlier editions of known books, thereby creating books that were both unique and seemingly enormously valuable. He made this believable by inventing copies of books originally published in collections and creating first separately published editions. This was doubly troubling considering Wise's role as bibliographer because not only was he defrauding purchasers, he was including his invented editions in his bibliographies, thereby making them dishonest too. Wise was able to get away with this for four decades, but his creations raised suspicions, and finally it all became clear with the publication of this book – An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets. The expose was written by John Carter and Graham Pollard, published in 1934. Both authors have signed this copy. Carter, in 1970, with an inscription. Pollard, humorously, in 1973, writing after Carter's name, "Signature authenticated by Graham Pollard." Item 204. $550.
Here is one from the miscellaneous category. It is a framed broadside headed The Life and Age of Woman. The subhead expands, Stages of Woman's Life from infancy to the brink of the grave. It was created by Albert Alden, circa 1835. It displays seven images of women from ages 1-90. It depicts and describes each of the stages, consistent with role stereotypes of the day. The woman is shown in a separate illustration as nurturer, teaching her child from the scriptures. The woman reaches her peak at the age of 30 when she is "at the height of her physical and intellectual powers." It's all downhill from there. By 90, "we see all that remains of her who once tripped the light fantastic." Alden also created one of these charming pieces for men, but at least men don't reach their peak until 50 before descending into decline and decrepitude. Item 275. $2,500.