The Wealth of Nations cast Adam Smith as an icon of economic liberalism, extolling the necessity of free markets, the division of labour and the mutually beneficial character of exchange. Smith spent two decades working on the book before it was published in 1776. Hailed as ‘excellent’ and ‘profound’, the first edition sold out within six months. Four further editions appeared in Smith’s lifetime. The present copy is one of two retained by Adam Smith for his own library and was purchased by Homer B. Vanderblue, the pre-eminent collector of Adam Smith of the first half of the 20th century.
In the early 1840s, Karl Marx had been consumed with an intensive study of political economy, particularly in relation to the work of Adam Smith and David Ricardo. His movements across Europe in the following years — a constant cycle of exile followed by expulsion — meant he was unable to follow through in his publication of his own book on economics. Often, Marx turned to his maternal family living in Zaltbommel in the Netherlands, for support and comfort. He was particularly close to his first cousin, Nanette Philips (1837-1885), and presented her with this first edition of Das Kapital, his most important work and the book which would tilt countries into revolution.
These two extraordinary journals belonging to Tryggve Gran, a member of the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition, are supremely important pieces of Polar history.
WATCH: Tryggve Gran’s son talk about the extraordinary diaries covering the search for Captain Scott
Diverging often from his published memoirs and offering additional material, they cover Gran’s prescient dream on the night of 14 December 1911 of Amundsen’s triumph in becoming the first man to reach the South Pole, the search for Captain Scott’s party and the tragic discovery of the tent in which his body lay.
This first edition of Homer’s Opera — hailed as the ‘first perfect poetry of the Western world’ — was edited by the humanist scholar Demetrius Chalcondylas, and was printed in Florence in December 1488. In preparing his text Chalcondylas consulted Eustathius’ monumental 12th-century commentary, which enabled him to clarify uncertain readings in The Iliad and The Odyssey, but he warns in his preface that the texts of the Hymns and of The Batrachomyomachia still leave much to be desired. This editio princeps (the first printed edition of the work, which previously had existed only in manuscripts) is, nevertheless, the most ambitious Greek production until the Aldine Aristotle.
Abraham Ortelius’ (1527-1598) masterstroke with the Theatrum was to provide, in a single volume, accurate modern maps in a uniform, regularised format, together with explanatory text. The world’s first atlas was the most expensive book of its day, and yet also one of the bestsellers, going into 37 editions and seven languages. This finely coloured copy, profusely highlighted in gold, is the third edition with the text in Latin.
This extremely rare example of the famous ‘Blue Map’ of the world is uniquely printed in ‘yin’ (relief) and ‘yang’ (intaglio) woodblock engraving. It was deliberately printed in deep blue and green colours to recall the antique culture of the venerable blue-and-green style of painting popularised at the imperial court of the Tang dynasty (618-907).
The title of the map is as much a political statement as it is a geographical record, showing China at the height of the Qing empire. The map had a utilitarian purpose to aid in the administration of the empire, while also confirming the Qing/Chinese notion of the Central Kingdom with all foreign entities inhabiting the fringes of the empire. Only seven other copies can be traced in institutions.
Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (circa 383-450 AD) is the author of two major works: the first, the Epitoma Rei Militaris, is one of the most influential military treatises in the Western world; the second, the Mulomedicina, is a work in three books entirely devoted to equine veterinary medicine. This unrecorded illuminated manuscript of Mulomedicina — commissioned for the Ferrillo family of Naples, and still preserved in its contemporary binding — reveals the Roman preoccupation with farm management and the declining state of equine and bovine veterinary medicine. Throughout, Vegetius emerges as someone anxious to justify veterinary medicine as a discipline as worthy of study as human medicine.
This unique eyewitness account of the Spanish conquest of Tripoli in 1510 was produced as a deluxe presentation manuscript for Count Gerolamo Adorno (1483-1523). The text is a vivid — and often gruesome — account of the departure of the Spanish fleets from the island of Favignana near Sicily; their arrival in Libya and capture of Tripoli; the slaughter or imprisonment of much of the population; the subsequent disastrous attempt to capture Djerba and the final withdrawal back to Sicily and Naples.
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Battistino’s account, told from a first-person perspective, is peppered with arresting detail — he talks about the main protagonists of the campaign, the military strategy and about the numbers of dead. Particularly brutal is a description of the Spanish armies slaughtering old and young in a mosque.
When it was first published in 1818, John Keats’ poem Endymion was received very badly by contemporary reviewers. It was even believed at the time that this criticism brought about Keats’ ill health and premature death at age 25; Lord Byron quipped that Keats had been ‘snuff’d out by an article’. Today, however, the poem is celebrated for its moments of genius, in particular its famous opening lines: ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever: / Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness’. This copy is particularly special because it belonged to John Clare, another of the great 19th-century English poets. On the half-title of this copy, Clare writes ‘John Clare / Helpstone / 1821’, perhaps inspired by the news he received in March of that year of Keats’ untimely death in Rome.
This magical scroll containing sigils and incantations was designed to invoke powerful spiritual and angelic protections for its 17th-century magician (or superstitious) owner, Franz-Anton Buechler. In medieval ceremonial magic, sigils represented angels and demons which the budding magician might attempt to summon as a means of exerting power or invoking protection. Buechler's scroll draws from a variety of different texts and grimoires, including the 14th- or 15th-century Key of Solomon, one of the fundamental instruction manuals on how to create amulets and perform spells.