Rare and Antiquarian Books and Ephemera from Samuel Gedge Ltd.
By Michael Stillman
Samuel Gedge Ltd. Rare Books has issued their Catalogue VII. Offered are books and ephemera that are rare and antiquarian, but their subjects are varied. There are many one-of-a-kind manuscript items, along with printed material that came in multiple copies, though few of those copies are still to be found. Most items are from the British Isles, as might be expected of an English bookseller, but that is not a requirement to make it to the pages of this catalogue. Here are a few of the interesting items you will find inside.
We will start with a unique item that gives us a fascinating look at Elizabethan society. Sir Philip Sidney was one of the most admired figures of the era. Born in 1554, he became a minor political figure, but was most popular as a writer and brave soldier. His notable works include the sonnets of Astrophel and Stella, and the prose work The Arcadia (later revised as The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia). While changing literary styles have dropped these works from the New York Times best-seller lists, they were very popular in their day. Sidney went off to the Netherlands to fight the Spanish and died in battle at the age of 32. Despite the respect he had earned, lineage was an all-important factor in the era. No matter how accomplished personally, having noble ancestors was essential. Around 1580, Sidney's father had Robert Cooke prepare a family genealogy. Included with that genealogy was a pedigree for Philip Sidney. That pedigree is offered as item 17. It seems that the Sidneys had a respectable set of ancestors, but Cooke went beyond the call of duty, sprucing it up with some invented forebears. He traced the family back to a William de Sidne who lived in the 12th century, or would have lived in the 12th century had he not been a fabrication of Cooke. Whether Sidney's father was a party to the fabrication, or Cooke was simply trying to please his client, is not known. It was not until research was conducted centuries later that Cooke's fabrication was revealed. Price on request.
Item 25 is a funeral notice from 1807 for a British resident of Calcutta. Such notices were a bit more blunt in those days - "The friends of the late William Townsend Jones, Esq. are hereby respectfully informed, that his corpse will be removed from his dwelling house, Rada Bazar, precisely at 5 o'clock this evening, when the favor of their company is requested to attend the funeral..." What Gedge has been able to learn about Mr. Jones is that he was listed as an "Irish attorney," and in 1789 the Calcutta Gazette reported his imprisonment for flogging to death the brother of his doorkeeper. Anger management might have helped. Priced at £250 (British pounds or roughly $416 in U.S. dollars).
Perhaps Mr. Jones could have benefited from the services of the Royal Humane Society. Formed originally as "The Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned," they had branched out to all sorts of resuscitation by 1806, hence the name change. Among the items displayed in this 1806 Annual Report of the Royal Humane Society is a set of "nostril pipes," a bellows-like device for forcing air and smoke into the lungs. It both saved and killed you at the same time. Another item was a wheelbarrow-like stretcher that emitted smoke. There is also a report on the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia, with advice on preventing its spread and avoiding "premature interment." £450 (US $750).