Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - February - 2008 Issue

Fifty Recent Acquisitions from Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books

Shapero50

Fifty fabulous new acquisitions from Bernard J. Shapero.


By Michael Stillman

Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books has issued a new catalogue in its "50" series: 50 Recent Acquisitions. This one covers "literature, medicine, colour plate, natural history, cartography, economics, photography." Shapero has issued a series of spectacular illustrated catalogues, each one focused on just fifty very special items. While others have been topical, this one covers a wide variety of types of books. Here are a few samples from this latest fifty.

Item 14 was a massive undertaking which, when completed, represented one of the greatest statements of liberty ever created. It is the Encyclopedie of Denis Diderot. It started as a more limited project, but Diderot determined to expand it to not only a collection of all of the knowledge of the world, but a book that would provide the thoughts of the great writers and thinkers of the time. It came to be a statement of such values as freedom, democracy, and religious tolerance, ideas not practiced in very many places at the time. It even found itself banned at one point, but Shapero notes that it is "probably the most important work of enlightenment thought." It was published in 35 volumes from 1751-1780. Priced at £55,000 (British pounds, or U.S. equivalent of approximately ($109,241).

Item 9 offers another large collection: The Writings, an anthology of the writings of Mark Twain, at least as of 1899. It was published in London (as were some of Twain's first editions) in this Edition de luxe, a decorative 25-volume set in a limited edition of 620 copies. It was signed by the author as "SL Clemens," with a parenthetical "Mark Twain." £7,250 (US $14,403).

Here is one more huge collection, but of a different sort. Item 48 is a collection of words. It is an 1828 first edition of An American dictionary of the English language, by Noah Webster. Webster wrote the 70,000 entries himself, adopting usage and spellings common to America, rather than relying on Johnson's dictionary. It was an immediate success and the updated editions of Webster's are still the standard today. Item 48. £7,500 (US $14,897).

From collections of words and thoughts we go to a collection of maps. Item 6 is a six-volume set of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum... a Latin edition of the great atlas published in Amsterdam by Joan Blaeu. This is a massive compendium of maps published 1648-1655. It features hand coloring and 400 engraved maps. £150,000 (US $297,953).

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