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ENGLISH BOTANY
London, 1790. FIRST EDITIONS. Hardcover. 254 x 162 mm (10 x 6 3/8"). 36 volumes (without the four supplements published over a period of 35 years after 1814). FIRST EDITIONS. IN THE ORIGINAL PUBLISHER'S TEMPORARY MUSLIN-BACKED PAPER BOARDS, ENTIRELY UNTRIMMED, flat spines with titling in gilt (one volume expertly rebacked using the original backstrip). With 2,592 hand-colored botanical plates, as called for, with four of the plates inserted from other copies (see below). Nissen, BBI 2225; Henrey 1366; Hunt 717. Light fading to a number of spines, minor fraying and losses to cloth at spine ends (and tiny losses in a few joints), but the original fragile bindings in a remarkably fine state, the covers and spines very clean, smooth and altogether surprisingly well preserved. Minor foxing and faint offsetting here and there (a few text leaves and perhaps two or three plates per volume more noticeably foxed, though never severely so), some of the text printed on paper of a lesser quality than that used for the plates and, consequently, with overall mild browning, but A FINE COPY INTERNALLY, the text apparently unread, and the plates very clean and fresh, with rich coloring. This is an exceptionally rare copy in original temporary bindings of the first extensive description of British flora, with the leaves entirely untrimmed. It is as large a copy as one could hope to find, with leaves measuring approximately 250 x 160 mm. (by comparison, a typical set, sold at Christie's in 2010, measured 233 x 138 mm.). James Sowerby (1757-1822) studied painting at the Royal Academy and earned his living painting portraits until disenchantment with the need to please the vanity of his subjects led him to turn to plants instead. He worked with William Curtis on his "Flora Londinensis" and "Botanical Magazine" before striking out on his own. He met botanist Sir James Edward Smith (1759-1828) through his brother-in-law, and proposed the project that became "English Botany," with Smith providing the letterpress and Sowerby nearly all of the engravings, which are the chief attraction here. "English Botany" was a success from the appearance of the first issue, with the plates receiving the lion's share of the praise. This set appears to be made up of volumes retained by the publisher and never sold. Whatever their history, they were never trimmed down, and the state of their preservation is remarkable, especially given the fact that they were always insubstantial in their manufacture. When we purchased the set, it lacked four plates (and accompanying text in three cases), a fact that would make sense if these were publisher-retained volumes. To make it complete, we obtained plates and text leaves from other copies, but these were so much shorter than the leaves in our original volumes, that placing the obtained leaves in their appropriate places within the text only served to call attention to the fact that they had been inserted. Consequently, we had paper pockets constructed, affixed these to the rear pastedown in the three volumes where additions had to be made, and then inserted the borrowed leaves, which now provide, by contrast, almost startling testimony as to how exceptional our set is in its size and condition.
      [Bookseller: Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Mediev]
Last Found On: 2013-11-29           Check availability:      Biblio    

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