An Exceptionally Fine Copy of One of Baskerville's Classic Quartos

OPERA.

(Birminghamiae: Typis Joannis Baskerville, 1772). 310 x 260 mm. (11 7/8 x 9 3/4"). 1 p.l., 200, 221-372 pp. (but complete). First Baskerville Edition.

SUPERB CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH RED MOROCCO, LAVISHLY GILT, covers with wide dentelle frame composed of botanical elements and many small tools, raised bands, spines gilt in compartments with central floral sprig surrounded by acorns, flowers, stars, and dots, volute cornerpieces, green morocco labels, gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Front pastedowns with engraved bookplate of P. Dupont and with morocco heraldic book label. Gaskell 44. A breath of rubbing to extremities, title page a little browned, final page a bit foxed, other trivial imperfections, otherwise A CHOICE COPY, internally clean, smooth, and bright, and in a sparkling binding.

This is the impressive quarto edition of a trio of great Roman love poets, in a lovely binding befitting the elegant printing. In a sheet dated 1760, which Baskerville issued appended to a specimen of his folio Bible, the printer discusses his proposed "Baskerville Classics": "Many gentlemen," he says, "have wished to see a sett of the Classicks . . . in the Manner, Letter, and Paper, of the 'Virgil,' already published," and he vows to print the same, with the poetical classics first. The present items are from what turned out to be seven Baskerville quarto printings of the classics, mostly done late in the printer's career but, according to Reed, bearing "the marks of unabated genius." These volumes, says Reed, would "suffice had [Baskerville] printed nothing else, to distinguish him as the first typographer of his time." In the present works, the stately typography, the luxurious paper (textured, but feeling rather like vellum), and the spacious design combine to give the reader a particularly gratifying feeling of strength and serenity. The extraordinarily smooth surface of our leaves provides a tactile experience not available from any other 18th century printer, Bodoni included. The beautiful binding here is unsigned, but is clearly the product of a first-rate workshop; while it is not uncommon to see a volume from the Baskerville quartos in a decorative contemporary binding, the present one would have a place in the front row of any assemblage.
(ST14299)