|The Universal Conchologist, exhibiting the figure of every known Shell, accurately drawn and painted after Nature… Figures of nondescript shells collected in the different voyages to the South Sea since the year 1764. |
London, [the Author], 1789.
Two volumes in one, quarto; parallel text in French and English; two engraved title-pages, both in French and English, engraved dedication to the King, two engraved plates of medals, 39 pp. Introduction and Preface, both in French and English; hand-coloured engraved frontispiece (with a Greek-key border applied in gold), 80 engraved plates, finely hand-coloured in imitation of watercolours, each numbered in ink and protected by a facing guard of thin blank paper; extra-illustrated with 19 hand-coloured variant plates; without the two engraved Explanatory Table leaves found in some copies; near-contemporary red straight-grained morocco, covers with gilt neo-classical border built up from fillets, a Greek-key roll, and a decorative roll, flat spine gilt in six compartments between raised bands; gilt edges.
The superb shell book, this copy extra-illustrated copy with 19 variant or proof plates
A most appealing, extra-illustrated copy of “One of the most beautiful of all shell books, containing exquisite renderings of shells collected on Cook’s three voyages and on other voyages, with specimens identified as having been obtained from New Holland, New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga, and the Hawaiian Islands” (Forbes). The plates in this work are of such refinement and beauty that they are routinely mistaken for original watercolours, testament to the skills of the artists involved in printing and handcolouring this lavish production.
This is an example of the second edition, slightly revised from its first appearance five years earlier. It is dated 1789 on the title, and contains a frontispiece, 80 plates, and two plates of medals (one dated 1792): this according to Forbes is complete. Although some copies of the Universal Conchologist have been described as having 160 plates, according to Forbes such copies “were apparently assembled rather than published and contain no letterpress text.” This copy is extra-illustrated with an important series of 19 very rare variant plates believed to be images that were ultimately rejected for publication by Martyn. The publication history of the work is complex, in part due to Martyn having halted production of the first edition and redrawn eighty plates. This example includes 14 of these rejected plates, here bound adjacent to the published versions. They are printed on different paper to the published images and show differences in the way they are laid out on the page as well as variations in the colouring. An intriguing additional five plates with no corresponding counterparts in the published work, but very faintly titled on the versos in an unknown hand, are bound at the back of the volume.
Martyn’s Conchologist is one of the finest of all books relating to Australia and the South Pacific, and rare in any edition. It is “a work which, for beauty, has seldom been surpassed in the history of conchological iconography” (Dance, A History of Shell Collecting), and the only work of the late eighteenth century to deal exclusively with shells. The shells are beautifully detailed and clearly displayed, with only one or two different specimens per plate. The plates are delicately engraved with faintness of line and then richly handcoloured with minute attention to detail and highlights. This was a deliberate - and successful - attempt by Martyn to achieve the life and energy of original watercolours. All are the work of an academy of young artists trained by Martyn himself; he recruited young men who showed artistic talent, and trained them so that there “would generally be found that uniformity and equality of style, conception, and execution which it would be in vain to expect from a variety of independent artists” (Martyn, quoted by Dance, op. cit.).
The engraved secondary-title (Figures of Non Descript Shells, collected in the different voyages to the South Seas since the year 1764) makes clear the impetus which induced Martyn to publish his masterpiece. A highly lucrative market in shells from exotic lands had developed by the middle of the 18th century. The shells collected on Cook’s voyages were greatly desired and when the specimens collected on the Third Voyage were offered for sale, one of their most enthusiastic buyers was Thomas Martyn himself. In a letter dated 9 December 1780, he wrote: “I may venture to affirm that I have purchased, amounting to 400 guineas, more than 2 thirds of the whole brought home. Nevertheless I do not abound either in variety of the new or many duplicates of the known ones that are valuable” (quoted by Dance, op. cit.). For the present work, in addition to his own collection, Martyn was also able to supplement where necessary with specimens from the other great collections of the time. The most notable was the Portland Museum, but a number of private collections are represented here; indeed Martyn’s discussion of contemporary collectors occupies six entire pages of the Introduction and is an important guide to that era’s collecting of voyage objects. Quite apart from details of the Portland and of course the Lever collections, as well as those of John Hunter and the Countess of Bute, there are numerous out-of-the-way English collections identified (and located) that might not otherwise be known.
The Conchologist is the only extant illustrated catalogue of the greater part of the shells collected on Cook’s voyages. From a scientific perspective, it is therefore an invaluable conchological record, much as Banks’ Florilegium stands as a monument to the botanical discoveries made on the first voyage.
This copy is accompanied by a series of early 20th-century offprints of articles on Martyn by W.H. Dall, T. Iredale and P. Dautzenberg (detailed list available on request).
|Location of Origin: England|
|Medium/Materials: Printed book: refer description for details|
|Dimensions: Two volumes in one, quarto|
|Primary Classification: Antique Books, Manuscripts, and Maps : Science Books|
|Secondary Classification: Fossils, Science, Natural History, and Rocks for Sale : Books / Documents / Journals|
Bagnall, 3437; BM(NH), III, p.1258; Ferguson, 40; Forbes, 'Hawaiian National Bibliography', 176; Nissen, ZBI 2728; Spence, p.39.
|Provenance: James Wiglesworth (Halifax, 1759-1826, inscription, dated 1818, presenting the book to his nieces); Elizabeth, Barbara, Mary and Dorothy Gorst (inscription); Arthur Blok (Rottingdean, Sussex, d.1974, 3pp. ALS, dated 7 September 1934, concerning the book from conchologist Alfred Santer Kennard).|
|Item Condition:||In very good condition; the original binding neatly rebacked with the original spine laid down.|
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121 Mount Vernon, Boston, MA 02108 USA
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