The Most Beautiful Book on Indian Sport in Existence


(London: Edward Orme, 1807). 480 x 595 mm. (18 3/4 x 23 1/2"). FIRST EDITION, First State (with Plate XXXI lettered "Hunting Jackalls"). Paper with watermarks dated 1804.

VERY HANDSOME RECENT DEEP BLUE STRAIGHT-GRAIN MOROCCO, BEAUTIFULLY GILT, IN THE STYLE OF THE PERIOD BY COURTLAND BENSON, covers with broad border featuring Greek key roll and starburst corner ornaments, raised bands flanked by multiple plain and decorative rules, spine panels with large central fleuron, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. With engraved pictorial title and 40 DRAMATIC AQUATINT PLATES, all attractively colored by hand. Schwerdt II, 297-98; Snelgrove, p. 202-03; Podeschi, pp. 97-98; Abbey, "Travel" 427; Tooley 508. Frontispiece and two index leaves with flattened creases, title page slightly soiled, margin of final page of text a bit foxed, faint offsetting from plates onto text, other trivial defects (one short marginal tear, isolated insignificant pinpoint foxing, a little smudge here and there), but A FINE COPY with only quite minor imperfections, with none of the typical (and often deadly) offsetting from text onto plates, and with its very accomplished replica binding unworn.

Offered here in a binding as magnificent as the book's illustrations, this immense volume recounts the experiences of an officer who served for 20 years in the Bengal Army, vividly providing in text and pictures an account of life in colonial India under the British Raj. It has unsurprisingly been described by Schwerdt as "the most beautiful book on Indian sport in existence." As the extended title indicates, the book examines "in a novel and interesting manner, the natural history of the elephant, the rhinoceros, [and several other species], the whole interspersed with a variety of original, authentic, and curious anecdotes." Hardie says that our book not only is "a mine of information as to the manners, customs, scenery, and costume of India, but [it also] contains one of the finest series of sporting plates ever published." The volume features wild elephants being captured, then pressed into service hunting other beasts. Tigers, wild hogs, bears, and wolves figure prominently as prey, but the author, who also penned an angling guide, does not neglect fish and fowl. The work was originally issued in 20 monthly parts between 1805 and 1807. Captain Williamson (d. 1817) was also the author of the first travel guide to India written for Westerners, "The East India Vade Mecum." As one of the chief early 19th century color plate books, "Oriental Field Sports" turns up with some frequency in the marketplace, but it is very often found in unpleasant condition, having typically suffered from avid readership. The fine period-style binding is the creation of Canadian binder Courtland Benson, who began to learn his craft in 1974. Over the years, he has studied with such master binders as Barbara Hiller, Bernard Middleton, David Sellars, Donald Glaister, Michael Wilcox, and James Brockman. In 1993, a finisher at Aquarius Bookbinders inspired Benson to learn to make tools based on historical examples, and he began to research decorative styles of bookbinding from 1450 to 1850, learning to design and use his own tools. There is no binder in North America who currently makes more convincing replica bindings than he does, and the present vast piece of work is notably impressive.