An Exquisite Catalogue from Phillip J. Pirages
By Michael Stillman
For January we review our first catalogue from Phillip J. Pirages of McMinnville, Oregon, and this one is a gem. Since the pages are not numbered, and there are far too many for me to count, we will tell you the book is almost 3/4 of an inch thick, contains 584 items, is richly illustrated with photographs of the items worthy of the works themselves, and contains some of the best and most thorough descriptions I have seen anywhere. Amazingly, Pirages provides complete descriptions not only for the $69,000 item, but for the $50 one as well. This is truly a gorgeous catalogue, and a most informative bibliography of the works within its pages.
Pirages' Catalogue 52 covers a wide variety of topics. It is broken down into sections on manuscripts, documents and printed leaves, and books before and after 1800. Pirages notes that all leaves they offer are either acquired individually or taken from fragmentary books. They do not take apart complete books. In an era when an increasing number of complete texts are being broken apart for their maps or plates, we cannot help but appreciate this respect for the book. Among the types of books offered are incunabula, color illustrated, travel and exploration, natural history, Americana, medicine, science and technology, works from fine presses, golf and angling, children's books, fine bindings, and many more. Virtually any serious collector has a good excuse for seeking a copy of the Pirages catalogue, itself a fine addition to your collection. Here is a sampling of the items you will find within.
The most expensive item in the catalogue is also the smallest. It is a single leaf from the Gutenberg Bible. Printed in Mainz, Germany, circa 1455, the Gutenberg is generally considered the first book ever printed. There is no other printed work as desired by collectors as a Gutenberg. However, complete Bibles are essentially unobtainable, with leaves being the only way collectors can own any part of this progenitor of all books. There are 48 copies of a believed initial run of 160-180 Bibles still known to be in existence, and all but three are now held by institutions. The last such public sale, which consisted of volume one only of two, was held in 1987, when this incomplete copy sold for $4.9 million. In recent years, the value of individual leaves has been rising as fast as the Bibles did in the years when one occasionally was still available. Pirages' leaf comes from what is known as the "Trier II" copy, once held in a monastery plundered by Napoleon. The book was evidently broken apart in the years leading up to the Second World War, with individual leaves being sold from a portion of the book Charles Scribner's Sons acquired. This leaf is taken from the Book of Baruch and it comes with an exceptionally nice facsimile of the Gutenberg and a descriptive book about this Bible. Priced at $69,000.
Even with Gutenberg's amazing invention, some people continued to produce books the old way. Item 2 is a handwritten, signed manuscript Psalter completed by a Florentine nun in 1476. It contains 172 leaves (a few of the original leaves are missing). The scribe identifies herself as "Sister G," and she served in the monastery of St. Peter Martyr. Named for a local martyr killed in 1252, the monastery had a short but significant life in Florence during the 15th century. $33,000.