(Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 8 March 1471). 280 x 190 mm. (11 x 7 1/2").  leaves (first and last blank). Single column, 31 lines in Jenson's elegant roman type. EDITIO PRINCEPS.
Fine early 20th century brown crushed morocco by Riviere & Son (stamp-signed on front turn-in), covers with blind-tooled frame and large central ornament, raised bands, spine panels stamped with floral tool, gilt titling, turn-ins ruled in blind. In a fleece-lined brown cloth slipcase. With a six-line opening initial in (now oxidized) silver with lovely white-vine decoration in red, green, and blue extending several lines above and below, and highlighted with three illuminated bezants; each entry beginning with five- or six-line hand-painted initial in red or blue. Recto of first blank with table of contents in a contemporary hand; neat marginalia in the same hand. Goff C-915; BMC V, 167; Dibdin II, 241; Moss II, 317. Occasional minor foxing near edges (first and last three leaves more affected), isolated small stains or smudges, otherwise A FINE COPY, generally clean, quite fresh, and mostly bright with spacious margins, in a sparkling binding.
This is the first appearance in print of the earliest surviving biographies from Classical antiquity, a work that continues to be of interest to modern scholars. First century B.C. Roman polymath Cornelius Nepos lived in the final days of the Roman republic, where his friends and admirers included Cicero, Catullus, and Atticus; he died early in the reign of Emperor Augustus. His major, ambitious work was the present "Lives of Famous Men," a collection of biographies of great (mostly Greek) men from a variety of professions. Its aim was to provide Romans with role models and guides to success. Only the present section, on foreign military commanders, survives. For many years, it was falsely attributed to a copyist from late antiquity, Aemilius Probus, whose name appears in the title headline here; it was only in the 16th century that Cornelius' authorship was established. One can appreciate the role of printing in preserving and disseminating the work of Classical authors by considering how breathtakingly close this work came to being lost to the ages: by the 12th century, just one manuscript copy survived. BMC records this as the fifth publication by Nicolaus Jenson (1420-80), arguably one of the three most renowned printers of the incunabular era (with Gutenberg and Koberger). Born a Frenchman near Troyes, he set up shop as a printer in Venice in 1470, and went on to print in excess of 100 works. He is best known today for his perfecting of the roman typeface, something that he used early in his career, something on display to great effect in the present work, and something that inspired the printers of many later generations, including those at work in the Arts & Crafts movement at the end of the 19th century. Dibdin and Moss have nothing but praise for this work: the former says "it is a very scarce and curious edition, and has always been treasured in the library of the learned," while Moss considers it the only 15th century edition worth mentioning. This edition of "Vitae" is uncommon in the marketplace. ABPC finds just two copies at auction in the past 40 years: the Bottfield copy, which fetched £9,000 in 1994, and the Doheny copy, which sold for $18,000 in 1987. (CBJ1723)
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PJP Catalog: 76.