Old and Rare Books About Books from Frits Knuf Antiquarian Books
By Michael Stillman
Frits Knuf Antiquarian Books has issued a catalogue of Old and Rare Books 2009. These are primarily books in the "books about books" and bibliography field. A large number of the texts are in the French language, Knuf being located in France, but there are also many in English and other languages. The description of "old" is certainly accurate, as there are few items here that don't date back at least a couple of centuries, and "rare" is undoubtedly correct as well as there is nothing commonplace in this catalogue. Here are a few samples of the books Frits Knuf has available in this first catalogue of 2009.
Item 14 is a catalogue for the early English bookseller Richard Chiswell. It was published in 1683, a date far closer to Gutenberg than it is to today. Chiswell sold both books he printed and those issued by others. He lists his books by size, starting with 36 folios and working progressively down through smaller sizes. Chiswell was not a specialist, as all sorts of topics are offered, including several of Speed's maps. Richard Chiswell was active from 1660 to 1711, and he was one of if not Britain's most important bookseller at the turn of the 18th century. Priced at €850 (euros, or approximately $1,092 in U.S. currency).
Item 18 is another early English catalogue, but this one comes from a far less reputable bookseller. It is headed New Books Printed for E. Curll. Edmund Curll was the personification of sleaze. He didn't just settle for things like scandal, pornography, and junk, but engaged in slander, pirated works, fabricated letters, and other outright lies. What he did do well, not surprisingly, was sell books, but his lies did at one point land him in jail. Still, he never learned his lesson, or, at least, he better learned the lesson that lies and scandal make money, rather than it lands you in the pokey. This Curll catalogue, published in 1740, includes both serious books and those of the variety for which he was better known. €900 (US $1,156).
Item 53 is a 17th century work on French printing and bibliography: Histoire de l'Imprimerie et de La Librairie... It was written by Jean de la Caille, and published in 1689 (this is a first and only edition). The bulk of the book is a bibliographic dictionary of Parisian printers and booksellers up to 1689. The book also discusses the invention and early history of printing and provides a list of first books printed in various locations. €2,000 (US $2,569).
There have been many ways of keeping out of the military over the years, but here is an unexpected one. Item 58 is a legal notice headed, Loi Qui Exempte de l'Enrolement Pour les Frontieres... Published in 1792, during the French Revolution, it prohibits printers from enlisting in the army, even voluntarily, unless they can provide a certificate showing there are still enough people working in the printing plant to carry on operations. We've heard of working in an arms plant as an exemption, but working for a printing press? Obviously printing carried a bit more respect in those days. €200 (US $257).