A Very Rare Complete Set of the Seven Baskerville Quarto Classics, Elegantly Bound by Bradel and Owned by a Reluctant Duelist


(Birmingham: John Baskerville, 1757, 1761, 1770, 1772, 1773). 303 x 228 mm. (11 7/8 x 9"). Seven volumes. First Baskerville Quarto Editions.

EXCELLENT CONTEMPORARY RED STRAIGHT-GRAIN MOROCCO BY BRADEL L'AÎNÉ (his ticket on verso of front free endpaper of Juvenal), covers with gilt fillet frame, raised bands flanked by gilt rules, turn-ins with gilt chain roll, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Horace with engraved vignette on title page, frontispiece and four charming plates by Gravelot. Front pastedown of Virgil with morocco bookplate of Jules Janin. Gaskell 1, 15, 39, 43, 44, 46, 51. ◆Spines uniformly darkened to a pleasing burgundy, a couple of corners a little bumped, trivial blemishes to half a dozen boards, first and last pages of each volume with minor offsetting from turn-in glue, isolated mild browning or foxing, other trivial imperfections, but AN EXTREMELY FINE SET, the text (often found very browned in these volumes) clean, smooth, and mostly bright, the bindings handsome on the shelf and with only minimal wear.

This is an uncommon--and uncommonly lovely--complete set of the stately quarto editions of the Latin classics issued by John Baskerville, in handsome bindings by the successor to Derome le jeune. The series begins with the first book to be issued by the press: the renowned Virgil, praised by Renouard, Gaskell, Dibdin, and other critics for its beauty. DNB says the "calligraphic type, the density of the ink, the excellence of the presswork, the smoothness and gloss of the paper--all these elements work in harmony in a design that was unusually sober for a relatively expensive book, since there are no copperplates or ornaments of any kind." 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. These volumes, says Reed, would "suffice had [Baskerville] printed nothing else, to distinguish him as the first typographer of his time." The beautiful typography, the luxurious paper (looking and feeling much like vellum), and the spacious design combine to give the reader a particularly gratifying feeling of strength and serenity.

Baskerville's Virgil was the first book known to be printed on wove paper, made using a mould covered with a fabric of uniformly woven fine brass wires in place of the traditional use of single parallel 'laid' wires stitched at intervals. The result is an extraordinarily smooth surface that provides a tactile experience not available from any other 18th century printer, Bodoni included. Only one of Baskerville's Latin classics is illustrated: the Horace, which has a title vignette and frontispiece by Henriquez and, in about half the copies issued (according to Gaskell), four plates by the great Rococo engraver Hubert-François Gravelot (1699-1773), all fortunately present here. John Baskerville (1706-75) started his career as a writing master, then began cutting letters for gravestones. He patented a process for "japanning," a type of veneer that replicated the popular Japanese lacquer work, and ran a successful business in this manufacture for 10 years before following his desire to cut type and print books.

The handsome bindings are by Alexis-Pierre Bradel (often called Bradel l'aîné), the nephew and successor of Derome le jeune and binder to the Bibliothèque Nationale at the end of the 18th century. His ticket in our set gives the workshop's address as rue Saint-Jacques, so we know the work was done before the French revolution. The restrained design of the bindings, combined with flawless workmanship and premium materials, make them a perfect complement to Baskerville's press work. Former owner Jules Janin (1804-74) was a French drama critic whose review of "Les Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr" caused a rupture in his friendship with author Alexandre Dumas père that nearly ended in a duel. However, the two were unable to decide between swords and pistols, and soon called the whole thing off. Uniformly bound complete sets of the Baskerville Latin Classics are quite rare: the last set recorded at auction in RBH and ABPC sold in 1978.

Price: $15,000.00