Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyBreadfruit Noir

  • Sun, 27 Jan 2013 11:57:17    Permalink

    The incomparable Peter Howardonce said something to the effect that Books are mysteries for booksellers to solve. If thats the case, my professional life has been one long Raymond Chandler novel.
    Last week, as I was making my way down the mean streets of the Eastern Macro Metro Corridor, a kindly lady placed a book in my hands.
    What do you think of this? she asked.I think I should buy it, I replied.
    It was a 47 page quarto, bound in later brown leprosy morocco, and a second 41 page quarto volume, bound with yet a third, 13 page work, with its own title page and pagination. They werent cheap. The three of them just about equaled the resale value of my car. But I pounced.
    That other incomparable, Charlie Everitt, equaled Peter Howard by once saying something to the effect that he made his living by being able to recognize Texas and several other key words in many languages. The title page of the bound volume contained the words breadfruit, Ellis, and East Indies. That made it a no brainer for me. I knew that Ellis had been on Captain Cooks voyage, and that breadfruit had been on Blighs voyage. Furthermore, East Indies, on a title page dated 1773, could not be ignored. Still, the thing was a muddle. What was up with that rebind? And why were the gutters of every page remargined? And why did the plates have such narrow margins?Were they offprints from earlier works? Were they all parts of a larger work?
    A couple of days later, back home and relatively sober, no brainer and muddle took on ominous alternate meanings. Would this lot join that ever growing pile of screw-ups that a wise old colleague had once referred to as my personal collection?
    I started my investigation with a trip to The Hill Collection of Pacific Voyages. There I learned that Captain Cooks surgeon on the third voyage had been William Ellis, not John Ellis, who was the author of my recent acquisitions. Uh-oh!
    The Dictionary of National Biography contained an informative entry on John Ellis. He was a prominent English naturalist whom Linnaeus termed the main support of natural history in England. Hed written several important works on exotic and newly discovered plants, and my lot were among them. Better still, the dates of publication on their title pages matched those given in the DNB. Whew!
    I noticed that two of the lengthy titles contained the phrase our American colonies so I consulted Molnars index to Sabin which led me (eventually!) to a citation in Sabins Dictionary of Books Relating to America, that confirmed title, pagination, format, and date of those two works.
    Then it was off to Worldcat
    which gave me publisher, date, plate count, and page size for the titles in question. Two were complete, with all plates present. One, in which the Venus Fly trap was first described, was lacking the plate of that plant. It had probably been missing for a long time, or possibly this copy had been published that way, because someone long ago had drawn a line through mention of the plate on the title page. The page height was given as 29 cm. My copies were uniformly 25 cm. That suggested to me that theyd been trimmed (hence the narrow margins of the plates) for binding into a larger volume, from which theyd subsequently been removed. For some reason, possibly having to do with this removal, the gutter margins of the breadfruit work had been damaged. Thus the repaired margins, which would have been necessary to re-sew the sheets and get them into their leprous leather covers.
    Worldcat also cited as references the Parsons Collection and Du Rietz, which in turn cited Cox and OReilly Reitman. I am re-citing all this because these sources uncovered a sub-mystery. Parsons and Du Rietz say the breadfruit book has 48 pages. Worldcat, OReily Reitman, and Gibson say 47. The book collates complete. Are there different states? Different ways of counting? My reference books weren't talking.
    Unfortunately, we must leave this mystery - possibly to be lifted out of the cold case files in a later blog - for a news flash.
    This Saturdays Boxborough Paper Town - The Original Vintage Paper, Book & Advertising CollectiblesShow promoted by the tireless Flamingoz and held in the sumptuous Holiday Inn was, contrary to my expectation, a lively event. 
    Sensible hours (9-3 on Saturday with a Friday setup) kept everybody energized. The room was filled up with dealers and there was a good range of material on display. Sure, very little of it was high end as more than one dealer remarked, the event had a sort of flea market feel - but so what? It was fun! I asked Tina Bruno, promoter of the event, what accounted for the resurgence of dealer interest in her show, She told me, Cheap booths. I had to do something!
    Were glad she did!
    Ellis, John. A DESCRIPTION OF THE MANGOSTAN AND THE BREAD-FRUIT: THE FIRST, ESTEEMED ONE OF THE MOST DELICIOUS, THE OTHER, THE MOST USEFUL OF ALL THE FRUITS OF THE EAST INDIES... TO WHICH ARE ADDED, DIRECTIONS TO VOYAGERS, FOR BRINGING OVER THESE AND OTHER VEGETABLE PRODUCTIONS, WHICH WOULD BE EXTREMELY BENEFICIAL TO THE INHABITANTS OF OUR WEST INDIA ISLANDS. (with) DIRECTIONS FOR BRINGING OVER SEEDS AND PLANTS, FROM THE EAST INDIES AND OTHER DISTANT COUNTRIES, IN A STATE OF VEGETATION: TOGETHER WITH A CATALOGUE OF SUCH FOREIGN PLANTS AS ARE WORTHY OF BEING ENCOURAGED IN OUR AMERICAN COLONIES, FOR THE PURPOSES OF MEDICINE, AGRICULTURE, AND COMMERCE. TO WHICH IS ADDED, THE FIGURE AND BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION OF A NEW SENSITIVE PLANT, CALLED DIONOEA MUSCIPULA: OR, VENUS'S FLY-TRAP. (and) SOME ADDITIONAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE METHOD OF PRESERVING SEEDS FROM FOREIGN PARTS, FOR THE BENEFIT OF OUR AMERICAN COLONIES. WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE GARDEN AT ST. VINCENT, UNDER THE CARE OF DR. GEORGE YOUNG.  Lon.  1770, 1773, and 1775. b/w engraved plates. 4to. 41, 15, and 47 pp. plus four plates. Three important works by this Irish born naturalist, an eminent member of the Royal Society. He wrote several monographs on plants of the East Indies and methods of transporting them to the west. His treatise on the breadfruit (1775) spurred interest in this plant as a food source for West Indian slaves, resulting in Blighs ill fated Bounty expedition. See Parsons Collection 149. OReilly and Reitman 2765. All three works bear on the botany of the Americas. See Sabin 22319. All are in good condition. Pages evenly tanned; those of the breadfruit volume are professionally remargined at the gutter. Offsetting from two of the plates in the this volume. The second volume lacks the plate of the Venus fly trap. Otherwise all three works are complete. The breadfruit volume is bound in later full leather. The other two are removed from larger works, with sewing intact. Incidentally, the Bounty crew detested the bulky contrivances designed by Ellis to transport the breadfruit plants. When Bligh went overboard, the breadfruit boxes did, too. Three volumes. $12,500

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