Thomas Martyn (fl.1760-1816)
Figures of Non Descript Shells Collected in the Different Voyages to the South Seas since the year 1764. London: by the author, 1784. 2 volumes, 2° (405 x 405mm). 2 engraved titles in French and English, engraved dedication leaf, 2 engraved 'Explanatory Tables' and one letterpress bifolia of 'Observations', all loosely inserted and in smaller format, frontispiece set within a Greek key-style border stamped in gold, 80 engraved plates finely hand-coloured to resemble watercolours heightened in gum arabic, borders ruled in black or green, all mounted on blue paper. 27pp letterpress text titled, 'The Universal Conchologist' in French and English. (Some faint offsetting.) Contemporary English red morocco, covers with wide Greek key borders, gilt edges (some light scuffing and rubbing). Provenance: George Cuvier (ownership stamp on both title pages).
THE VERY RARE FIRST PRINTING OF MARTYN'S MAGNIFICENT WORK ON THE SHELLS OF THE SOUTH SEAS, the plates based on specimens in the cabinets of the Duchess of Portland, Mr. Humphries, Mr. Fordyce and others, including many owned by the author purchased from members of the crew of The Resolution and Discovery and collected on Cook's third voyage to the Pacific. Thomas Martyn was born near Coventry and by year 1784 had moved to London and was living in Covent Garden, moving to Great Marlborough Street later in the same year. He was a writer, a pamphleteer, natural history dealer and draughtsman. In his capacity as dealer/collector he managed to acquire numerous shells from the crew of The Resolution and Discovery, on its return in 1780. He wrote, "I may venture to affirm that I have purchased, amounting to 400 guineas, more than two thirds of the whole [shells] brought home...The rest of the shells are positively in the cabinets of Mr. Banks, Dr, Fordyce and two other gentlemen." (Dance p.100) The leading shell dealer of the day, Mr Humphrey, who had bought most of the shells from the second voyage, spent only £20. Unfortunately Martyn was not impressed with his purchase complaining of few new rarities and many duplicates. As a dealer in shells, the influx of new varieties gathered by Cook's Pacific voyages invigorated the shell market around Europe, and Martyn set about publicising the beauty of such shells. He planned a major work of 160 carefully drawn plates to be published in 4 volumes called The Universal Conchologist. By 1784 he had completed the first two volumes comprising 80 plates which he issued under the present title in a folio format as here and as a quarto edition with the plates unmounted. It is said that 70 copies of the two volumes were issed to subscribers. The finished edition of The Universal Conchologist in four volumes was complete by 1792 but only after he had established his Academy for Painting Natural History in 1786. The Academy provided youthful, and cheap, labour to produce the numerous drawings for this and other projects. By 1789 had nine apprentices who served as youthful, and cheap, labour to produce the numerous drawings of this and other projects. All of Martyn's work is remarkably rare and colouring of the highest standard. The illustrations rank amongst the very finest shell pictures; Martyn "produced a work which for beauty, has seldom been surpassed in the history of cochological iconography" (Peter Dance, Shell Collection, London 1966) Nissen ZB1 2727; BM (N.H.) III p. 1258).