Early Imprints

As an antiquarian bookseller, I have occasion to own, at least temporarily, a number of very old books. Today I thought I would feature some of these, and give a bit of background about the significance of early printed works.

Many reading this already know that the first major book produced in the West using movable type was the Gutenberg Bible, published in the 1450s. This was a huge achievement in the world of printing, and led to the rapid adoption of Gutenberg’s style of printing press. The change in speed and range of mass communication make this one of the most important occurrences in modern history, comparable to the advent of the internet in the number of possibilities it opened up.

Up to this point, books were reproduced either by manuscript (i.e., copied by hand), or by woodblock print. Both were very time-consuming, and thus implicitly limited the level of production. Woodblock printing, as compared to printing using movable type, was also quite costly, as it required the fashioning of a completely new printing block for every page to be reproduced.

As a result of its historical and scholarly significance, the Gutenberg Bible is highly collectible. Because only four dozen are known to still exist, and fewer than half of these are complete, prices realized for this work continue to climb – though the last complete copy sold for $2.2 million at auction in 1978, current auction estimates are in the eight-figure range.

Of course, few of us can afford such extravagance. The good news is, following Gutenberg’s triumphant creation of his printing press there was an explosion of interesting printed material, much of which still survives today. Some of this has vast literary and historical significance (e.g., Shakespeare’s 1623 ‘First Folio‘); other material is of little interest in terms of subject matter, but show us important things relating to the evolution of printing, binding, paper-making, typography, language, etc.

The Geneva Bible

The Geneva Bible

And of course, some volumes are interesting for both reasons. A good example is the Geneva Bible, also called the ‘Breeches’ Bible. It is symbolic of 16th century Protestantism, preceding the now-ubiquitous King James version by 51 years; it was the Bible used by Shakespeare; a copy was even taken to America on the Mayflower. It is also considered the first study Bible, in that it includes introductions to each book, and other additional material making it well suited to more incisive examination of the text. Copies were produced as early as 1560, and continued until around 1644. I am currently privileged to have a 1606 copy in the shop’s inventory, pictured here, which is completely original (i.e., the binding has not been replaced or refurbished).

This was acquired in a consignment of early and decorative bindings from a private collection, some of which also appear in this post. Of particular interest to me is the presence of ink notations detailing family history (christenings, births, etc.) at several points within. While normally such notations detract from value, to me this is an exception – I enjoy thinking about these words being recorded by a careful hand four hundred years ago.

Four other books from the same collection are interesting mainly for their bindings.

Custom-Bound Wedding Gift

Custom-Bound
Wedding Gift

The most notable is a custom-bound collection of four religious devotionals. It is an excellent example of late 17th century binding design. As our listing states, it is ‘contemporary dated custom full morocco with five raised spine bands, gilt cherub and grape decorations with red flowers on front & rear panel, gilt page ridges, red endpapers with gilt design. Leather device on front paste-down reading ‘James & Mary Metcalfe Octob:15 1700′, which suggests this volume was specially bound as a wedding gift.’ While each work alone is not particularly notable, the four bound together is a unique thing (in the true sense of the word ‘unique’; i.e, one-of-a-kind). It is a particularly well-preserved volume, and must have been commissioned to an expert based on the level of detail of the work — at this point in the history of bookbinding, the decorative work mentioned was all done by hand, and thus achieving the symmetry and exactitude shown here was quite difficult. This ranks as one of the favorite fine bindings I have held in inventory during my bookselling career.

If the following has piqued your interest, we have a number of other examples you can peruse on our website, many of which are pictured below. Simply use the following link to visit the Early Imprints catalog:

Early Imprints

You can also click the image of any of the works featured in this blog to view our full catalog listing. Other highlights include: the earliest book in our inventory (1567); a 1584 religious work bound in German blind tooled pig skin; and a 1688 treatise on fortifications bound in vellum.

1831083 1826270 1815114 1668387 1663137 1663130 1662764 1659688

Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller
President, Yesterday’s Muse Books
Vice President, IOBA
Sellers of fine books in all categories, with specialties in:
Castles & Military Fortifications; Dystopian Literature
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580
Phone: (585) 265-9295
www.websterbookstore.com
https://musebooks.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/yesterdaysmuse
www.twitter.com/ymbookseller
http://pinterest.com/yesterdaysmuse/
www.linkedin.com/in/yesterdaysmuse/

Assorted Edgar Allan Poe

1828773

Tales of Mystery and Imagination,
with Harry Clarke illustrations

Edgar Allan Poe was a prolific writer in the nineteenth century, well-known for his macabre and mysterious works of short fiction and poetry. He is considered by many to be the inventor of the detective fiction genre, paving the way for other writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Dashiell Hammett. Most of us immediately recognize his most famous poem, The Raven, by just one word – nevermore. This came 18 years after Poe’s first foray as a published author, with his first work Tamerlane and Other Poems (a work that is now eminently collectible – one of the greatest book scouting stories of the 20th century centers around the location of an original copy in a barn in New Hampshire in 1988).

Poe had a unique knack for horror and suspense – who can forget the beating of that tell-tale heart? – and influenced many writers who came after him. He was also a prominent literary critic, known for his biting reviews of other works of literature. As a result, though his own writings were popular, he was not generally well-liked. His own character seems to match the mood of his stories – darkly romantic, enigmatic, but nonetheless compelling.

I have compiled here for your literary enjoyment a group of Poe volumes we currently have in inventory. Many of these were purchased as part of a small collection focusing on Poe, and as a result some interesting editions are represented. To the right is pictured a well-known edition of his Tales of Mystery and Imagination, which includes wonderful illustrations by Harry Clarke. This imprint was originally released with a dust jacket, as well as a collector’s box, both of which are often missing (as is the case here).

Below are two editions of Poe’s poems, both issued by The Roycrofters (Elbert Hubbard’s Arts & Crafts group, based in East Aurora, NY, and known for their high quality book designs and printing). These are just two versions of many that were released in the same year (for a wealth of information relating to this and other titles published by The Roycrofters, this website is invaluable: Roycroft Books).

Poems: Roycrofter Edition, Suede Spine Over Boards

Poems: Roycrofter Edition, Suede Spine
Over Boards

Poems: Roycrofter Edition, Half-Leather

Poems: Roycrofter Edition, Half-Leather

Poe’s first novel (and his only complete one), written more than ten years after his first poetic works, was The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, first released in 1838. It would be an influence on the nautical fiction of Herman Melville (Moby Dick) and Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). The Gold Bug was a short story, also in the adventure fiction category, which proved very popular during Poe’s lifetime.

A number of multi-volume sets of Poe’s complete works have been released (though, it is useful to note, many that purport to include his complete works do not – check those tables of contents!). Numerous decorative and collector’s editions are also available, and the serious collector can seek out original publications of his work, much of which was first printed in serial form in various literary magazines. In short, those interested in compiling a collection of Poe will find it difficult to grow bored.

For more information on the titles pictured here, click the image to view our full descriptions of these titles, and the specific editions.

 

Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller
President, Yesterday’s Muse Books
Vice President, IOBA
Sellers of fine books in all categories, with specialties in:
Castles & Military Fortifications; Dystopian Literature
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580
Phone: (585) 265-9295
www.websterbookstore.com
https://musebooks.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/yesterdaysmuse
www.twitter.com/ymbookseller
http://pinterest.com/yesterdaysmuse/
www.linkedin.com/in/yesterdaysmuse/

Arthur Gordon Pym: A Romance

Arthur Gordon Pym: A Romance

1845206

The Works of Edgar Allan Poe,
in Ten Volumes

1844965

Prose Tales

1830994

The Gold-Bug

1829519

The Bells

1829518

The Bells

Complete Poems: Easton Press Leatherbound Edition

Complete Poems:
Easton Press Leatherbound Edition

Published in: on June 27, 2013 at 12:49 PM  Leave a Comment  
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