The Menzies-Lefferts Copy of the First Colonial History Printed in Virginia


(Williamsburg: Printed by William Parks, 1747). 210 x 133 mm. (8 1/4 x 5 1/4"). viii, 304, 295-304, 305-331 [i.e., 341], [1]; v, [i], 34 pp. FIRST EDITION (Sabin variant "B"/Church Edition "2," Church seeing no priority in the two states of the first edition, but Sabin speculating that corrections to "B" suggest a later printing).

FINE DECORATIVE GREEN CRUSHED MOROCCO BY FRANCIS BEDFORD (stamp-signed on front turn-in), cover framed by gilt French fillets with oblique floral sprays at corners, raised bands, spine attractively gilt in compartments with large fleuron centerpiece enclosed by double fillets and cornerpieces of scrolling floral vines, turn-ins densely gilt, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Woodcut headpieces, tailpieces, and initials. Front pastedown with leather bookplate of Marshall Clifford Lefferts and with bookplate of Mrs. L. Bartlett; verso of front free endpaper with Lefferts' small purple cipher stamp; front flyleaf with Lefferts' pencilled signature dated 26 January 1884 and a brief bibliographical note, saying the volume came from the Menzies sale (see below). Brinley 3796; Church 963; Evans 6071; Howes S-1014; Sabin 91860. Spine uniformly sunned to olive, the vaguest hint of isolated browning or foxing, other trivial imperfections, but AN ESPECIALLY FINE COPY, the text very clean, smooth, and fresh, and in a handsome binding that is lustrous and scarcely worn.

With outstanding provenance, this is a fine copy in a lovely binding of the first edition of one of the earliest accounts of Virginia, one of the first American histories to be written and printed in the British colonies, and the first such book published in Virginia. It also was issued by the first press in that colony. The work covers the earliest days of the original permanent English colony in North America, from its establishment in 1607 through the dissolution of the Virginia Company of London in 1624. According to DNB, it has been "long regarded by later historians as a pioneering example of scholarship based on extensive research in original sources." Through his relatives, the prominent Randolph family, Stith (1707-55) had access to important early research material, including the library of William Byrd of Westover, records of the Virginia Company, and Virginia court proceedings (many of these documents being since destroyed). Born in Virginia and educated at Oxford, Stith served as president of the College of William and Mary and was an early critic of taxation without representation. William Parks (ca. 1698-1750) established the "Maryland Gazette," the first American newspaper south of Pennsylvania, before moving to Williamsburg in 1733 to begin printing in Virginia. According to ANB, he was considered "the most important colonial printer after Benjamin Franklin," and this is one of his most enduring works, as well as one of the earliest Virginia imprints available. The binding here is typical of the elegant work of Francis Bedford (1799-1883), who managed the firm of Charles Lewis for the latter's widow, and then was in a partnership for 10 years with John Clarke before establishing his own bindery in 1851. He shortly became recognized as the leading binder in fashionable West-End London, and his firm enjoyed prosperity not only until his death, but for a decade afterwards, under the ownership of Joseph Shepherd. Bedford bindings are consistently so well executed that their appeal to a wide audience has not diminished with the passage of time. Our copy has a prestigious provenance: the earliest owner we know of, self-made businessman William Menzies (1810-96), assembled a library of Americana that the eminent bibliographer Joseph Sabin described as a "grand and probably unrivalled collection . . . replete with the best editions of the best authors, in the very best condition, selected and purchased . . . without regard to cost." Sabin prepared the catalogue for the Menzies sale in 1875 ("the bibliographical event of the season," according to "American Bibliopolist"), in which the present item appears as lot #1916, described in hyperbolic terms. Sabin told Frederick Goff that the condition of Menzies' books was unsurpassed by any other collection he had handled in his long and distinguished career. Our subsequent owner, Marshall C. Lefferts (1848-1928) travelled in a similarly lofty bibliophilic orbit as one of the great American book collectors of English and American literature. It is likely that our copy has been lightly washed, at least in part, because the gatherings which are described elsewhere as typically browned (X, Cc, Dd) are not noticeably darker here.

Keywords: History; Americana

Add to Cart Price: $12,500.00

PJP Catalog: 71.133