(Zurich: Chez l'auteur, 1777). 270 x 200 mm. (10 1/2 x 8"). 4 p.l., 184,  (subscribers) pp.,  leaf (advice to binder),  leaf (blank), 190 pp.,  leaf (advice to binder). Two volumes bound in one. Translated from the German by H. Huber. First French Quarto Edition.
EXCEPTIONALLY ATTRACTIVE EARLY 19TH CENTURY GREEN STRAIGHT-GRAIN MOROCCO, GILT, IN A NEOCLASSICAL STYLE IMITATING THAT OF KALTHOEBER, covers with scrolling vine frame, central panel with sunbursts and swags across the top, palmette tools along the sides, and a variant of Kalthoeber's mermaids-and-urn tool at foot, raised bands, spine compartments with central patera surrounded by small tools, leaf frond and volute cornerpieces, red morocco label, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. In a modern green morocco-lipped slipcase. With two engraved titles, 40 engraved vignettes, and 20 FINE ENGRAVED PLATES BY GESSNER. Front flyleaf with ink inscription to "Henry S. Pakenham / from his friend / Henry H. Evans" (see below). For the binding: Compare and contrast Foot, Henry Davis Gift II, 189; Maggs 1075, no. 219 and 1212, no. 164; Oldaker Collection 21; British Library Database of Bookbindings, Shelfmark Davis194. ◆Spine uniformly sunned to olive brown, joints and extremities very slightly rubbed, a half dozen small indentations to front board, occasional faint foxing to edge of margins, but an excellent copy of an extremely handsome book, clean, fresh, and bright, with ample margins and rich impressions of the engravings, and in a well-preserved binding glistening with gold.
This is a desirable copy of an important late 18th century French illustrated book, a happy marriage of fashionable poetry and beautiful engravings, in a binding that carefully imitates the Neoclassical designs and tools of master binder Christian Kalthoeber. Gessner (1730-88) was a painter and poet from Zurich, who hoped to renew the ancient genre of the eclogue. According to Britannica, he was "the most successful and typical representative of a literary rococo movement. His pastorals were translated into 20 languages, including Welsh, Latin, and Hebrew." He was also an equally talented artist, and the preface to this book is quick to note that all the etchings are of his own imagination and executed by his own hand. Gessner's close attention to detail and liberal use of dense crosshatching give each plate an intensity that is almost tactile, with the pale figures in high relief against the deeply etched, dark backgrounds.
The binding is an excellent imitation of the work of German émigré binder Christian Kalthoeber, "considered during his day to be the finest binder in the world," according to Maggs Catalogue 966. One of Kalthoeber's most recognizable designs, used on at least seven bindings, employed a roll-tool border enclosing a central panel with garlands and pateras across the top, palmettes along the sides, and at the foot, two mermaids with curling tails flanking an urn. Examples of this can be seen in the sources cited above. Here, the mermaids are thicker and less refined in form, and the tool has been applied at a very slight angle, rather than with the precision characteristic of the master. The urn and palmettes, too, are less expertly engraved and applied, and the complex pateras of varying sizes are replaced with simpler, one-size starburst ornaments. Our binder was talented enough to produce an imitation that would stand up to all but the most careful scrutiny; until one sees the binding side-by-side with a genuine Kalthoeber, it is hard to register the differences. Perhaps our binder had apprenticed with Kalthoeber, for he had certainly had the opportunity to study the tools very closely, and he had been trained in a workshop that schooled its apprentices in fine workmanship--if not in professional ethics.
The inscription notes that this copy once belonged to Henry H. Evans (1836-1917), a member of the Illinois House and Senate, who made a name for himself in the ice cream and restaurant business and eventually went on to found two railways following the Civil War. The present item is appealing for its internal and external aesthetics, and for the light it sheds on the binding industry and its practices at the turn of the 19th century. (ST14864)