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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Bibliophily & Bibliomania

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de Bury, Richard.

Philobiblon. — [Paris]: J. Petit, 1500.

Richard de Bury’s Philobiblon, often cited as the first book on bibliomania, is a spirited apologia for the disease. De Bury (1287–1345), Bishop of Durham and manuscript collector, purposely kept a light touch in the Philobiblon, “for it is absurd in authors that a light matter should be written in a lofty style.”  During his lifetime, de Bury amassed a large library of books through gift and with the help of agents whom he employed to purchase manuscripts for him in continental Europe.  This is the earliest edition of the Philobiblon in the Library; it was first printed in Cologne in 1473.

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de Bury, Richard. 

The Philobiblon … ed. from the best manuscripts and tr. into English with an introduction and notes by Andrew Fleming West. — New York: The Grolier Club, 1889.

The Grolier Club’s eighth publication was this three-volume edition of the Philobiblon. The book’s original binding was apparently not luxurious enough for certain early Grolier members, for the Club owns a number of copies more or less richly bound by the original subscribers. The sumptuous covers in this set were crafted by Léon Maillard and the Club Bindery in full crushed morocco, each volume in a different color and design. 

Bequest of Marian Holden, 1980.

Thomas Frognal Dibdin

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Dibdin, Thomas Frognall.

The Bibliographical Decameron …. — London: Printed for the author by W. Bulmer and Co., 1817. 12 volumes.

The Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776–1847), antiquary, a bibliographer, and librarian to the great Earl Spencer, is credited with founding the first Golden Age of modern book collecting. The publication of his Bibliomania in 1809 generated enormous popular interest in the collecting of rare books and early editions, an arcane pastime previously limited to a very few scholars and bibliophiles.  The Bibliographical Decameron, a dialogue with the same interlocutors as his Bibliomania, is the most lavish of Dibdin’s works and arguably the most popularly successful. This extra-illustrated copy, the gift of Grolier member Lucius Wilmerding, is from the library of the English collector George Henry Freeling (1789–1841), who extended the original three volumes to twelve by inserting additional plates, letters, pages from early printed books, and in one of the volumes, the cancelled copper plate of Diane de Poitiers from Dibdin’s Bibliographical tour.  

Gift of Lucius Wilmerding, 1937.

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Young, John after William Owen.

Thomas Dibdin, Esq. — London: Published by the Engraver, 1807.

Mezzotint engraving by John Young (1755–1825) of Thomas Frognall Dibdin as a young man, after a painting by William Owen (1769–1825). 

Sir Thomas Phillipps

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A catalogue of the printed books in the library … at Middle-Hill. — Middle-Hill: Printed by Edwyn Offer, 1828 [i.e, 1827–1871].

This catalogue records nearly 12,000 printed books in the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872), one of the most voracious bibliophiles who ever lived. At his death the Bibliotheca Phillippica numbered almost 100,000 books and manuscripts, and selling it off took the better part of a century. The catalogue of the printed books, issued in fourteen parts over nearly fifty years, is the product of Phillipps’s own idiosyncractic Middle Hill Press. This copy, one of only six printed, belonged to Sir Thomas himself, and it bristles with his additions and annotations.

Gift of Jean Mermin Horblit in honor of her husband, Harrison D. Horblit, 1995.

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Photograph of Sir Thomas Phillipps, 1860.

Portrait of a bibliomaniac: the collector poses with two items purchased at the sale of the Rev. John Mitford’s manuscripts on July 9, 1860: a tenth-century Horace (Phillipps MSS no. 15363), now in the Houghton Library, Harvard University; and a thirteenth-century copy of the gospels in Armenian (Phillipps MSS no. 15364), now in the Chester Beatty collection. The Library’s copy of the photograph is annotated by Sir Thomas with a description of the manuscripts.

Fortsas Hoax

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Catalogue d’une très-riche mais peu nombreuse collection de livres … dont le vente se fera à Binche, le 10 août 1840. [2nd issue].  — Mons: E. Hoyois, [1840].

In the summer of 1840 a catalogue was issued advertising the sale by auction of the small but choice library of Jean Nepomucene Auguste Pichauld, comte de Fortsas, who had died the previous year. Sent to most of the leading book collectors of Europe, the meager sixteen-page sale catalogue caused an immediate sensation, for each of the fifty-two volumes described was absolutely unique, and violently desirable. On the sale date of August 10 collectors from all over Europe descended on the tiny Belgian town of Binche, but they found no sale, no jewel-like collection of incredibly rare books, not even a comte de Fortsas. The hoax was the brainchild of local antiquarian R. H. Ghislain Chalon, whose passion was playing elaborate pranks on intellectuals. 

Gift of Leonard Mackall, 1928.

Guglielmo Libri

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Monuments inédits … faisant partie du cabinet de Guillaume Libri.  — London: Dulau, 1862.

Guglielmo Libri (1803–1869) represents an extreme form of bibliomania. A political refugee from Italy, Libri established himself in France as a book collector. His impressive 40,000-volume library won him the post of French Inspector of Libraries in 1841, but within a few years he was suspected of stealing books from the libraries he visited. Libri escaped with his collection to London, where he auctioned his books in two immense sales in 1861. One of the more splendid entries in the bibliography of “l’affaire Libri” is this suite of sixty colorful chromolithographic plates of bindings from Libri’s collection. It is Sir Thomas Phillipps’s copy, with his notes on the bindings acquired for the Bibliotheca Phillippica.

Purchased in 2003.