Rare Book Working Group Asks, “Why Pay More?”

Dick Donovan, Wanted! A Detective’s Strange Adventures (London: Chatto & Windus, 1892).

For its second session of the fall term, the Rare Book Working Group (RBWG) at Princeton University Library asked the question shared by generations of booksellers and readers: “Why pay more?” Its survey of “cheap books” through the ages opened with examples of economizing Virgilian ventures from the early hand-press period, compared the Shakespeare First Folio of 1632 to shilling editions released during the Victorian era, crossed the Atlantic for an introduction to the evangelical pamphlets of Lorenzo Dow, and investigated signs of book ownership in productions of the popular press. Professor Seth Perry (Religion) and RBSC experts, Eric White and Gabriel Swift, highlighted material evidence of cost-effectiveness in American and continental European publications, respectively, while student assistants Miranda Marraccini and Jessica Terekhov spoke to the nineteenth-century reading revolution. A sampling of “inexpensive” rare books was on hand for the interactive portion of the session, during which participants shared observations into the economics of readership as captured in marketing strategies, popular genres, and publishing innovations.

The earliest book introduced was a 1469 folio collection of Virgil’s complete works, followed by a 1510 octavo edition, four times as small. The group related the size reduction to lower production costs and speculated that a 1511 publication of the Aeneid alone, although in quarto format, may have suited tighter budgets by economizing on content.

Virgil, Opera (Rome: Sweyn- heym & Pannartz, ca. 1469).

Virgil, Aeneid (Leipzig: Wolfgang Stoeckel, 1511).










The juxtaposition between other early modern staples, the first appearance of Shakespeare’s collected works and the first quarto edition of any of his plays (Love’s Labour’s Lost), and a selection of popular anthologies from the nineteenth century was similarly revealing. Leading the race to the bottom in the 1800s were Ward, Lock and Co., whose six-penny Complete Works outstripped and underpriced competitors in 1890. Princeton owns neither this edition (yet), nor Dicks’ shilling Shakespeare of 1866, which sold 700,000 copies within two years of its release upon the bicentenary of the bard’s death.

The Works of William Shakespeare, ed. by William George Clark and William Aldis Wright (London: Macmillan and Co., 1884).

Of special note among the anthologies displayed was the Globe Shakespeare published by Macmillan in 1884, two decades after their first Globe venture. Princeton’s copy is unique for its indications – and illustrations – of prior ownership. The book is inscribed on the half-title page by Francis Turner Palgrave, perhaps most famous for editing The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics (1861) in collaboration with Alfred Tennyson, to his daughter, “Margaret I. Palgrave, with best love from her Father, June 1894.” Turning past Margaret Palgrave’s bookplate on the inside front cover reveals a curious combination opposite the half-title: a magazine clipping of two kittens above a pin commemorating the Shakespeare Festival of Mercy in 1915.

A canine curiosity; ibid.

Flower petals are interleaved throughout the book, having been left in long enough to have stained certain pages, and a pasted-down illustration of a hound in profile completes the picture on the back free endpaper. The RBWG agreed that such colorful evidence of ownership provides insight into earlier reading practices and clues to one book’s career through different libraries through the centuries.


Lorenzo Dow, Progress of Light and Liberty ([Troy, N.Y.: William S. Parker, 1824?]).

With Professor Perry at the helm, the group journeyed abroad and toured the eastern seaboard with Lorenzo Dow, an evangelical preacher known for his eccentric style and far-flung presence. Professor Perry discussed Dow’s early nineteenth-century tracts, several of them brittle pamphlets with creases where they were presumably reduced to pocket size, in relationship to Dow’s appropriation of Thomas Paine as well as his marketing techniques, which included selling publications on a subscription basis and distributing copies through newspaper offices. The highlight of the crop was the fifth printing of the Progress of Light and Liberty, sown and uncut as issued in Troy, NY, in 1824. Perry explained that the value of the text as a physical artifact consisted in its having been spared material accretions by later book dealers, owners, or holding institutions, who would have interfered with the original condition of the 36-page pamphlet. Perry later commented:

I think cheap books give us a window onto intimate, portable, active aspects of print culture. Cheap books go places and do things that fancy books typically don’t. Early-American itinerant preacher Lorenzo Dow (the subject of my second book) published a lot of cheap print – pamphlets and broadsides that he carried around with him to sell and to post – and he was routinely worried about them getting soaked in his saddle bags when he traveled in the rain. Seeing that always makes me think what a different approach to print culture his texts represent from, you know, fancy gilded books that would never have found themselves in a wet saddlebag. Cheapness is not always just about class and access to print, but also about print imaginaries – cheapness opens up different ways for producers and consumers to imagine what print can do, and where, and for whom.

The Beggarly Boy, a Cheap Repository Tract (London: John Marshall, [1796?]).

The final portion of the session was devoted to a roundtable showcase of “cheap books” over the centuries, from a 1558 medical handbook with censored passages to a number of late Victorian railway reads, called yellowbacks given the typical color of their paperboard covers (see, for instance, Wanted! A Detective’s Strange Adventures). Late eighteenth-century moral tracts, published under the direction of Hannah More (Cheap Repository Tracts), almanacs (Ames’s Almanack Revived and Improved), primers (The New-England Primer Improved), and school prizes (ironically, Colonel Jack: The History of a Boy that Never Went to School) rounded out the survey of affordability, a category in flux almost since the very beginning of Western printing.

The RBWG invites students and faculty in any discipline with interests in book and printing history to its spring sequence, which will feature a program on “East and West” and a tentative visit to off-campus collections. Please contact Jessica at terekhov@princeton.edu to join the RBWG listserv for future updates.

The Only Copy in America of Virgil’s Bucolica [Strasbourg: Heinrich Eggestein, ca. 1473-74]

Vergilius Maro, Publius. Bucolica [Strasbourg : Heinrich Eggestein, about 1473-74] f°. Goff V-203.      Oversize VRG 2945.325.001q

Given the rich holdings of Virgil’s poetry in Princeton University Library, one of the world’s foremost repositories of fifteenth-century editions of his works, it is perhaps easy to overlook the collection’s earliest separate edition of the Bucolica, which is one of only five copies to survive and the only copy preserved outside of continental Europe. Written in 42–39 BCE, the Bucolica (Latin ‘On the care of cattle’) was Virgil’s first major work, preceding the Georgics and the Aeneid. The Bucolica consists of ten brief eclogues that evoke the idyllic scenes and daily hardships of rural life within the Roman Empire. The poems were sensationally popular in ancient Rome and have never gone out of favor, as medieval Christians admired Virgil’s mastery of Latin verse and perceived messianic themes in his imagery. Virgil became Dante’s hero, and readers of the Renaissance esteemed Virgil above all other poets. In modern times, improved editions of his works, as well as reliable translations, continue to find a broad readership.

The first printing of the works of Virgil, including the Bucolica, Georgics, and the Aeneid, appears to be the folio edition published in Rome c. 1469 by Conradus Sweynheym and Arnoldus Pannartz. Princeton University Library is one of eight institutions to hold that edition, and the only one outside of Europe. The first separate printing of the Bucolica appeared in a smaller quarto format from the Cologne press of Ulrich Zel, c. 1470, which is known in only eleven copies.

Princeton’s earliest Bucolica, from the second separate edition, was printed in Strasbourg by Heinrich Eggestein about 1473-74. It is a slender Chancery folio (30.9 × 21.2 cm) of sixteen leaves in which the poems were composed in a single narrow column of 27 lines per page, spaciously leaded as in a school book. In the past the edition has been dated variously as c. 1468, c. 1470, and c. 1472. The earlier dates are clearly too early, falling before Eggestein introduced his type known as ‘4:99G’, used here, which also appeared in datable editions from 1471 to 1473. The dating of c. 1472 for Eggestein’s Bucolica, cited in most of the prevailing bibliographies, accords with the printer’s chronology but it does not take into account the key evidence of his paper supply. Paul Needham, the Scheide Librarian at Princeton, has determined that the watermarks found in the Bucolica, depicting a Bull’s Head surmounted by a Tau Cross, belong to a Chancery paper stock from Basel that also was used c. 1474 in Valascus de Taranta, Tractatus de epidemia et peste [Basel: Martin Flach, c. 1474]. Needham suggests that the best dating for Eggestein’s Bucolica is therefore c. 1473-74.

Eggestein’s edition of the Bucolica first came to light in 1810, when the French bibliographer Jacques-Charles Brunet (1780–1867) described it in his Manuel de libraire, vol. 2 (p. 648), citing the copy then owned by Comte Léon d’Ourches (1766–1843) of Nancy. The confident attribution in 1810 of an unsigned Bucolica to Eggestein exhibits a precocious knowledge of early Strasbourg typefaces. In the following year that same copy of the Bucolica was sold in the Catalogue des livres rares, précieux et bien conditionnés du cabinet de M. Léon d’Ourches (Paris: Jacques-Charles Brunet, 1811), lot 619, to the Parisian booksellers Guillaume De Bure l’aîné and his two sons; soon thereafter the De Bure frères sold that book to the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where it remains.

Duru’s 1853 binding.

Princeton University’s copy of Eggestein’s Bucolica was the second to emerge, one of only two copies ever to appear on the rare book market. It was first recorded in the German bookseller Fidelis Butsch’s Catalog einer ausgewählten Sammlung von Inkunabeln, literarischen Curiositäten und Seltenheiten (Augsburg, 1851), p. 35. In 1853 it was rebound by the fashionable Parisian binder Hippolyte Duru in brown morocco (goatskin) paneled in blind with darkened fillets, gold corner fleurons, and inner dentelles in gold over marbled endpapers, with all edges gilt.

Duru’s stamp.

Inside front cover.

The Princeton copy also bears the bookplate of the Parisian printer and book collector Ambroise Firmin-Didot (1790–1876), who is probably the owner who brought the book to Paris from Augsburg to be rebound by Duru. In the Catalogue illustré des livres précieux manuscrits et imprimés faisant partie de la bibliothèque de m. Ambroise Firmin-Didot (Paris, 1878), the Bucolica was sold as lot 104. Soon it came into the possession of Rev. William Makellar (1836–1896), a not particularly wealthy Presbyterian minister in Edinburgh who managed to acquire a Gutenberg Bible in 1885. In the Catalogue of the Extensive Library of Valuable Books and Manuscripts of the Late Rev. William Makellar (London, 1898), Sotheby’s sold the Bucolica as lot 3127 to the Piccadilly bookseller James Toovey (1813–1893) for £22; Toovey kept it within his ‘reserve’ collection, most of which his heirs sold to J. Pierpont Morgan of New York in 1899. However, the Bucolica, and many other important editions of Virgil (including the rare first edition of c. 1469), went instead to Morgan’s nephew, Junius Spencer Morgan (1867–1932), an 1888 graduate of the College of New Jersey, which is now known as Princeton University. An outstanding amateur scholar, philanthropist, and collector of art and books, Morgan gave the entirety of his great collection of Virgil editions, encompassing more than 700 titles, to his alma mater over a period of many years. His is the only copy of Eggestein’s Bucolica ever to leave continental Europe.

Junius Spencer Morgan (1867–1932). Princeton, Class of 1888.

Three other copies of Eggestein’s Bucolica have come to light. One is part of a Sammelband of several works preserved at the University Library in Freiburg im Breisgau; another was found at the Cathedral Library in Hildesheim in 1908; a third was identified among the thousands of incunables at the Bavarian State Library in Munich. Mysteriously, as in the Princeton copy, the rubricator of the Munich copy mistook the first word of the Bucolica, ‘[T]ityre,’ and filled in a colored initial ‘S’ instead, so that it reads ‘Sityre.’ With its ample margins and clean white paper, the Princeton copy is perhaps the finest of the five that survive.

Rubricator’s beautiful mistake: S instead of T.