Glasgow Incunabula Project update (14/6/12)

The latest ten books to be added to the project website are:

It has been nine months since a copy of the Liber physiognomiae last surfaced, so I am pleased to highlight yet another edition described in this batch – found in no less than three copies. It is an edition assigned to Treviso, produced in about 1483 by Johannes Rubeus Vercellensis. As we might expect by now, all three copies hail from John Ferguson’s collection, and there are some interesting provenances amongst them.

Ferguson acquired his first copy on 12 May 1894 (Al-b.47). He purchased it from the London bookseller Bernard Quaritch, who had bought it at the auction of the Hamilton Palace Library for £2.12.6. This splendid library was largely the work of the tenth Duke of Hamilton, Alexander Douglas-Hamilton (1767-1852), who amassed a great collection of art (including several old masters), as well as over three thousand valuable books and manuscripts; a part of his library came from the bequest of his father-in-law, William Beckford (1760–1844), the writer and art collector who built the Gothic inspired Fonthill Abbey. Travellers were drawn to Scotland from far and wide to visit Hamilton Palace and its treasure trove. Unfortunately, however, it was demolished in 1921. Described as one of the great “lost” buildings of Scotland, you can get an idea of its former magnificence from surviving photographs (see our Photo B10). We have a manuscript catalogue of the library (MS Gen 1056) which lists Ferguson’s book on p. 35 as “Incipit Liber Phisionomia”. Alas, besides describing its shelf location, the catalogue does not divulge any other interesting information about the book such as its earlier provenance.

Library of Hamilton Palace

Hamilton Palace Library (from Photo B12)

Stamped armorial binding

Binding stamped with the arms of Percy Clinton Sydney Smythe (Sp Coll Ferguson Al-b.17)

Six years later, on February 24 1890, Ferguson acquired his second copy (An-e.21). This was sold to him by the German bookseller, Ludwig Rosenthal (1840-1928). We do not know anything more about the history of this one.

Ferguson did not have to wait too long before purchasing his third, and final, copy (Al-b.17). He notes on its flyleaf that he acquired it (just over a year later), on March 25, 1891. This book bears the armorial bookplate of William Horatio Crawford of Cork (1815-1888), and presumably Ferguson bought it at the auction of his library in 1891. Crawford came from an eminent Irish family of brewers and merchants. A renowned plantsman, he created a famous garden at his house, Lakelands – incidentally, this house was also pulled down, although Crawford’s name lives on in Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery, to which he was a generous benefactor.

Like so many incunables, this book (originally made in Italy) was seemingly something of a traveller. Prior to belonging to Crawford in Ireland, it was in the ownership of John Trotter Brockett (1788-1842), whose armorial bookplate is also found on the front pastedown. The ODNB describes Brockett as an antiquarian, who was particularly interested in numismatics; he collected books as well as medals, and was interested enough in bibliography to initiate the founding of a typographical society in Newcastle, where he lived. Before Brockett, the book belonged to Percy Clinton Sydney Smythe (1780-1855), 6th Viscount Strangford; his arms bearing the motto  “Virtus incendit vires” (Manhood rouses strength) are stamped on the binding. Lord Strangford was a diplomat and some time poet, with a lifelong interest in the Arts. Eventually settling in London, as an Ambassador he worked all over the world, and it was perhaps during these travels that he picked up this copy of the Liber physiognomiae. And there our provenance trail ends for this book. So many varied lives encountered from three different copies of the same book! And yet, in each case, the total story is tantalizingly incomplete …

Categories: Special Collections

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