Sale 6348, Lot 242
Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)
Theatrum orbis terrarum. Parergon.
- Nomenclator ptolemaicus.

Estimate: £70,000-90,000

The majority of over 4,000 volumes in William Foyle's library was purchased in the 1940s and 1950s. Comprising works from the 11th to the 20th century, including Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts and issues of Early Continental Printing, the entire collection was housed in the monks' dormitory of Beeleigh Abbey, a 12th century monastery on the River Chelmer at Maldon in Essex. It was here that Foyle, after building this famous bookstore in London, finally indulged his love and passion for book collecting. The re-emergence of the Foyle collection from its cloistered existence makes many fascinating discoveries possible, providing an exciting opportunity for both scholarship and collectors.

Mr. Foyle's interest in the history of Beeleigh Abbey stood behind the purchase of numerous additions to the collection, including several of the remarkable 12th-century books, four of which were made for other abbeys and are still in their original bindings, such as the Apologeticum of Bernard of Clairvaux, from the Abbey of St Osyth just across the estuary from Beeleigh.

The collection also features devotional works in Middle English, and the French and English chronicle histories; eight Books of Hours in Dutch; as well as works in Spanish and Italian. A 16th-century armorial of the Doges of Venice was owned by John Ruskin, author of the Stones of Venice, and makes a particularly timely appearance in his centenary year.

There are similar surprises among other classes of text, including handsome humanistic copies of Cicero and Caesar made for scholarly courts and communities in 15th-century Italy, and an exceptional copy of Comedies of Terence made in Paris around the same time.

A passion for Shakespeare led Foyle to acquire a very fine copy of the Third Folio of the first four editions of Shakespeare's Collected Works, and many 16th century books, whether original English texts or translations of Italian and Spanish romances, which are thought to have influenced the playwright. An attractive example is Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in London in 1584, which may well have inspired Shakespeare's portrayal of the witches in Macbeth.

Among the early printed books are the Amherst copy of the first edition of Thomas à Kempis's highly influential devotional work, the Imitatio Christi (Augsburg: Günther Zainer, c.1473); Pliny's Historia Naturalis (1476), illuminated by a contemporary Italian artist, a typographic masterpiece by the early Venetian printer, Nicolaus Jenson; a magnificently colored copy of Ortelius's Theatrum orbis terrarum, printed at the Plantin press in 1601 for presentation by Cosimo II de' Medici; and the dedication copy of Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples's translation of the letters of St. Paul, printed on vellum by Henri Estienne, founder of the great French printing dynasty.

A number of rarities only now resurfacing include a blockbook Mirabilia urbis Romae (Rome: c.1475), the only blockbook edition of this guide to Rome for German pilgrims arriving in the Holy City to celebrate the Jubilee Year of 1475, which is known to exist in only five other copies.

Back to top