(London: William Miller; T. M'Lean; William Bulmer, 1800-18). 370 x 270 mm. (14 1/2 x 10 1/2"). Seven volumes.
Uniformly bound in stately contemporary dark burgundy straight-grain morocco, covers with gilt palmette-and-wheat-sheaf border, inner frame of blind-stamped grapevine, raised bands, spine compartments densely gilt with repeating botanical tools, gilt lettering, gilt-rolled turn-ins, all edges gilt. Two engraved titles with hand-colored vignettes (not included in plate count) and 356 FULL-PAGE HAND-COLORED PLATES FEATURING COSTUMES, OCCUPATIONS, AND SOCIAL INTERACTION OF VARIOUS NATIONS. Volume I-III, V, and VI with text in French as well as English. Front pastedown with armorial bookplate of Edward Gordon Douglas-Pennant, 1st Baron Penrhyn. Abbey Life 430; Abbey Travel 71, 244, 370, 373, 532, 533. ◆Joints and extremities lightly rubbed, one board with a couple of faint scratches, two rear boards with neat older repairs to short tears at tail edge, but the bindings quite sound and most attractive on the shelf. Flyleaves a little foxed, minor offsetting from plates to text leaves (occasionally more pronounced, but never offensive), isolated minor marginal foxing to plates, otherwise very fine, WITH CLEAN, BRIGHT PLATES.
This is a collection of major early 19th century color plate books with well-drawn and richly-colored engravings, in bindings that make a handsome appearance on the shelf. All of these works have appealing plates where the costumes of the various social strata are carefully and colorfully delineated. And two of the volumes--those showing British costumes and the book on Chinese punishments--contain, in addition, a good deal of diverting background detail that serves as a revealing context for each of the costumes depicted. The content of each of the volumes is worth noting. With a few exceptions, the plates in the "Costumes of China" portray ordinary working-class men and women toiling at their trades. We see a bookseller with his wares spread out on a mat, women sewing and embroidering, a butcher, a fisher, a barber, a man with a "magic lantern" show, and a "man striking a small gong during an eclipse" (an ancient ritual that the author tells us he was privileged to witness on 17 November 1789). The "Punishments of China" volume is filled with (almost gleefully) painful depictions of all degrees of disciplinary action, from the relatively minor twisting of the ears or chaining to an iron pole, to the humiliating ordeal of the wooden collar, to methods of execution by beheading or by crucifixion using a cord. The opulent and brightly colored costumes in Dalvimart's volume on Turkey are mostly those of the ruling classes, although also represented is a wide variety of native dress from the many regions of the vast Turkish empire of the day, which included Bosnia, Albania, Syria, Egypt, and parts of Greece. It is particularly interesting to contrast the clothing of the very heavily veiled Turkish and Egyptian women with the much more relaxed style of the Greek women and the nearly immodest garb of the female Bedouin. We also are shown a eunuch, an odalisque from the harem, a grand vizier, various royal functionaries, and government officials, all splendidly attired. The Russian costumes, based on engravings done by C. W. Müller at the request of Empress Catherine the Great, are focused on the ethnic dress of the empire's many holdings. The Laplanders and Finns wear clothing that would look familiar to most Europeans, but the Mongols in their Oriental dress would be quite exotic. The clothing of the northern tribes, such as the Kamchatkans, Aleutians, Koriaks, and Tungoosi, will impress the modern reader with their similarity to the traditional dress of Native American and First Nation peoples. The Tchutski woman is even depicted naked to display her tattoos. Bertrand de Moleville's Austrian costumes also illustrate the native dress of the empire's citizens, but the illustrations here are less fashion plates than romanticized scenes: peasant couples are shown courting and dancing; Croatian women gossip beside a stream; and a wild-haired Bohemian gypsy, whose "profession is not hard to guess" from her state of "déshabillé," flees with her naked (and no doubt illegitimate) child. Pyne's "Costumes of Great Britain" is one of the most highly praised works in this set, and for good reason: the simple working men and women of Britain it depicts are always shown going about their daily tasks in the midst of a well-realized scene. The woman selling "salop" (a hot morning beverage) is seated at her cart with its urn, judiciously located by the watchman's stall, surrounded by customers including soldiers and a woman with her market basket. A fireman with an ax and a torch hurries toward his engine company while they unwrap their hose. The potter is at his wheel, the tanner is cleaning skins, and the bill-sticker posts the winning lottery numbers. The clothing, while carefully detailed, is almost secondary to the depictions of everyday life. The "Military Costumes of Turkey" illustrates the official regalia ("uniform" is much too drab a word for these outfits) worn by officers in various regions of the empire. Perhaps the most intriguing plate here is that of the Ladle Bearer, a post that was also illustrated in "Costumes of Turkey." What appears to be a man with a giant spoon is in fact the holder of an important military position, equivalent to the color-bearer in a western army. We are told that the loss of its ladles is the greatest disgrace that can befall a Turkish regiment: if the two great ladles (the size of a grown man) that are borne into battle at the head of the troops are captured, the regiment must be disbanded and formed anew. Former owner Edward Gordon Douglas-Pennant, 1st Baron Penrhyn (1800-86) was a leading figure in the Welsh slate industry; he owned the Penrhyn Quarry, the largest slate quarry in the world at the end of the 19th century. He was known for his paternalistic attitude to his employees, creating the "model village" of Llandegai to house the quarry workers. It was notable for having "no corrupting alehouse." He was ruthless enough to fire 80 men in 1868 because they did not vote for his son George, who was running for a seat in Parliament. Single volumes from this set appear with frequency in the marketplace; full sets show up much less often; sets as handsome and well preserved as the present are rarely seen. (ST17757)