Shapero Rare Books has released a catalogue of Fine Illustrated Books 2013. The catalogue is from 2013, but the illustrated books are mostly much older. There are 100 items offered. The first ten are listed under the heading “Illustrated Incunabula,” the remaining 90 as “Illustrated Books from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century.” The word “books” should not always be taken too literally. While most items are books, there is also some artwork, maps, and photographs. However, the words “fine” and “illustrated” do universally apply to these items. Here are a few of them.
We will start with one of the incunables, De claris mulieribus, by Jacobus Philippus Bergamo. That title translates to “of famous women.” Shapero describes the work of the Augustinian monk Bergamo as “the first encyclopedia of women.” There had actually been an earlier pre-printing manuscript book of the same name. However, that had focused on rediscovering women who were not well known. Bergamo focused on women of the greatest accomplishments. The book contains portraits of the important women, the last seven of whom were contemporaries of Bergamo, likely included near the book's publishing date (1497) and with more accurate portrayals. Among those included in the book are Joan of Arc, Queen Margaret of England, and the legendary Pope Joan. This was a period when belief that there had been a female Pope, who attained the office by disguising herself as a male, was at its height. The theory has since been put to rest by most scholars. This copy comes with a significant provenance. It was once part of the library of Hartman Schedel, whose Nuremberg Chronicle, issued a few years earlier, was at the time the most serious historical account of the world, dating all the way back to Creation. Interestingly, Schedel also included an image of Pope Joan in his book, but in many if not most copies it has been blotted out, her legend being deemed offensive by many. Item 2. Priced at £175,000 (approximately $265,268 U.S. dollars).
Here is another incunable: Revelationes, the revelations of St. Bridget, Birgitta of Sweden. Bridget may have seemed an unlikely candidate to be a founder of a religious order that still exists today (the Bridgettines) or the most noted Swedish saint. She married at a young age and bore 8 children. However, she devoted herself to charitable and religious works even during her marriage, and was in Rome seeking approval to open her monastery when her husband died. She, and a daughter (St. Catherine of Sweden) continued the good works the remainder of her life (she died in in 1373). Bridget had visions, beginning at a young age, and it is those that are explained in the text. The book includes numerous woodcuts, including full-page illustrations. It was published on behalf of the monastery Bridget founded in 1492. Item 4. £90,000 (US $136,470).
Next up is a work that has earned its reputation as “the greatest and finest atlas ever published.” Johannes Blaeu's Atlas Major was the largest and most expensive book published during the 17th century. The entire world is covered in its pages. Its nine volumes contain 600 hand-colored engraved maps. It includes 58 maps from England and Wales, 25 from America. That many American maps is surprising for such an early atlas, it having been published from 1662-1665. Offered is a copy of the Dutch edition of this atlas which represents the high point of the extraordinary Dutch map making tradition. Item 31. £480,000 (US $727,480).
Item 71 is Views of Lansdown Tower, Bath. The favourite edifice of the late William Beckford Esq, by Willes Maddox. It was published in 1844, the year Beckford died. William Beckford was a wealthy, eccentric individual. He inherited a fortune from his father, a commoner who gained his wealth through plantations in Jamaica and later served as Lord Mayor of London. Beckford the son was not as talented at making money, but was quite accomplished at spending it. He was not without achievements, having written the once popular novel Vathek and serving many years as an MP. However, it was the spending for which he is remembered. He accumulated a fine library of books and a valuable collection of art, but most notably built himself an enormously expensive gothic residence known as Fonthill Abbey. He did not get what he paid for. Despite the many years of construction, the workmanship was shoddy. Maintaining it became too much even for Beckford and he was forced to sell the house and much of his art and books in 1822. That was just as well, as in 1825, much of it collapsed under its own weight, and later most of the remainder was demolished. Undaunted, Beckford built a new residence, and part of that property was Lansdown Tower. It housed some of the books and art he retained from Fonthill, but the most notable feature of the tower was its spiral staircase leading to the top where Beckford could observe the surrounding countryside, and even shipping in the Bristol Channel with the aid of a lens. £5,750 (US $8,711).