One of the Great Ichthyological Works, with More than 200 Sometimes Silvery Fishes
BLOCH, MARC ÉLIÉSER.
ICHTHYOLOGIE, OU HISTOIRE NATURELLE, GÉNÉRALE ET PARTICULIÈRE DES POISSONS.(Berlin: Chez l'Auteur, 1795). 495 x 311 mm (19 1/2 x 12 1/4"). Six volumes (of 12) bound in three. Translated by J. C. Thibault de Laveaux. First Edition in French.
Very pleasing recent retrospective quarter calf over marbled boards by Courtland Benson, flat spines attractively gilt in panels divided by five decorative gilt rolls, the panels featuring a central floral spray curling around a large volute, red morocco labels, EDGES UNTRIMMED. WITH ENGRAVED FRONTISPIECE PORTRAIT AND 211 (of 216) VERY FINE HAND-COLORED ENGRAVED PLATES OF AQUATIC LIFE, some heightened in silver. Nissen ZBI 416; Casey/Wood, p. 244; Dance, p. 56. "Avertissement" leaf at front of first volume a bit browned, isolated trivial smudges, but AN EXCEPTIONALLY FINE COPY, the beautiful plates in near-pristine condition with vivid colors and shining silver, the text clean, fresh, and bright with enormous margins, and the whole encased in an unworn convincing retrospective binding.
This work is the masterpiece of Marc Éliéser Bloch (1723-99), one of the most important ichthyologists of the 18th century, an arresting publication famous for Bloch's use of silver to reproduce the sheen of his subjects, as well as for the overall beauty of the illustrations. Bloch adopted a Linnean arrangement as the basis for his work, but went further to establish 19 new genera and 176 new species. A German Jew who was born into poverty and who was illiterate in German until age 19, Bloch knew enough Hebrew to be hired as a tutor to the children of a Jewish surgeon. In that position, he learned to read German and some Latin, and began the study of anatomy and natural science that would be the passion of his life. He went on to attend medical school in Frankfurt, and became a practicing physician in Berlin, where he continued his scholarship in the field of ichthyology. He began publishing this work at his own expense, but it soon proved so popular that princes and patrons of the sciences rushed to contribute to the cause. Happily and atypically, the text and plates here are in superb condition, and the artful use of silver transforms even the most humble carp into a shimmering, iridescent beauty. The first French edition of what Dance calls "possibly the most beautiful book on fishes ever published" was produced by at least two different printers in Berlin: our set is composed of the first six parts, printed by Louis Philippe Wegener; Godefroy Hayn printed the second six parts, which are very seldom seen in the marketplace. The last complete set at auction seems to have been at Sotheby's in 1984, when it sold for £16,500 (roughly $63,000 in today's dollars); parts I-VI and IX-X were sold, also by Sotheby's, in 2000 for $32,500; the six other auction records in the past 35 years have offered only six or fewer parts. Accordingly, the cost of this item is meant to be advantageous, as the only complete set currently on the market is priced at $290,000. (CJW1004)