Fifty Favourites from Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books
By Michael Stillman
Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books has issued a catalogue of 50 Favourites 2008, subtitled Books, Photographs & Atlases. These works are favorites for good reason. They are all top-level items, classic first editions, wonderfully illustrated books, large antiquarian atlases, unique early photographs, and other very special items. Here are some of Shapero's fifty favourites.
Where better to start than with a book of beginnings? Item 3 is Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, a book controversial not only in its time, but still today. By touching on the momentous question of where we come from, Darwin challenged literalist Biblical beliefs, though all he was doing was explaining phenomena he observed in nature. Priced at £95,000 (approximately $186,475 in US dollars).
Johann Gmelin may not have reached any such momentous conclusions from the plants he observed, but he did provide the most important early work on Russian flora. He participated in the Great Northern Expedition, sanctioned by Emperor Peter The Great, from 1733-1743. It provided the first systematic exploration of Siberia and the Arctic coast. Gmelin's Flora Sibirica sive historia planetarum Sibiriae was published in four volumes from 1747-1769. Shapero notes that complete copies of this work are a "great rarity." Item 32. £12,500 (US $24,544).
Here is another Russian book on plants: Opisanie Kartofelya. For those not up on Russian, this translates to "Description of the Potato." This book by Karl Putsche was first published in German, this first Russian of 1821 coming two years after the German edition. It contains all you could ever want to know about the potato, and undoubtedly, much more. It describes its history, species, cultivation and storage, and its use in making vinegar, coffee, wine, syrup, and beer. Potato coffee? Not covered are potato chips and French fries. The book is too early for those. It is a good book to be translated into Russian as there is a chapter on the quintessential Russian product - vodka. Item 33. £4,500 (US $8,839).
Let's take one more trip to Russia. Item 35 is Ostrov Sakhalin (Sakhalim Island) by Anton Chekov. Chekov is best known for his novels, but this work is more of a travelogue from his journey to the Russian Far East in 1893-94. Chekov reports on convicts and exiles held in these far reaches of the nation and the difficult conditions under which they lived. Published in 1895. £2,750 (US $5,400).
Item 17 is the first edition, first issue of the first letter of the alphabet. This is the 1850 edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and that letter was, of course, an "A." That is "A" as in apple, though that is not what it stood for. This issue contains the misprint "reduplicate" for "repudiate." £2,750 (US $5,400).