May 5, 2016
16th century Illustrated Post Incunable Book Appraisal
This is a rather delighted early book we recently purchased directly out of an old estate library in New Jersey where it must have languished in the basement for several decades. Yes, we do work hard buying libraries and estates nationally – digging with a lot of boots, masks, and gloves, to uncover hidden treasures.
The book is what is known as a post-incunable which usually refers to a book printed between 1500 and before 1530-1540- not quite the infancy of printing but a time of great experimentation and improvement.
What struck me as immediately interesting- and something I have not seen ever before- is an early drawing on the cover which strongly resembles a bookbinding. I presume it also could be some geometric representation of a ceiling or other doodle, but given its proximity to the clasp it surely gives the impression of a drawing of a bookbinding.
The book itself is a 1520 illustrated edition of Ovid’s Epistulae Heroidum (Letters of Heroines) – a compilation of poems about aggrieved heroines in mythology and the heroic lovers that have mistreated, neglected or abandoned them. Ovid apparently considered this suitable reading material to his assumed audience of Roman women – the ‘chick lit’ of its day – albeit I wouldn’t go so far to call this elegiac, erotic poetry the ‘1520 Shades of Grey’.
In terms of value, the book has a lot of appeal. Generally illustrated post incunabula are highly collectible these days – and the illustrations present here are unusual and often depict women (the heroines) composing letters and writing with some nice anachronistic Renaissance furniture touches. The blocks were re-used in earlier editions and probably originated from the workshop associated with the Malermi Bible.
The book suffers from some condition isssues- worming to the wooden boards and some loss, detachment of the text block, and some internal staining. Nevertheless, it very rare in commerce; a copy on RareBookHub shows a copy sold in 2006 for 1150 Euros. Given that that copy was in a less attractive later vellum binding and accounting for the passage of a decade and the rather curious drawing on the original wooden boards in the present copy, I would place its auction value closer to $2000.
The full description is here:
[POST INCUNABLE] [OVID] Epistolae heroides Ouidij diligẽti castigatione excultae: aptissimisq[ue] figuris ornatae: cõmentãtibus Antonio Uolsco: Ubertino Crescentinate: & A. Jano Parrhasio: necnõ Jodoco Badio Ascẽsio: in Ibin vero Domitio Calderino: Christophoro Zaroto & Ascẽsio …[Venice], . FOLIO. 12 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches.
COMPLETE. 6 preliminary leaves, cviii lvs. Colophon: Venetiis per Georgiũ de Rusconibus. Anno dñi. M.D. XX. die. 27. mensis septemb. [printer’s mark]. Title within ornamental border; the 23 woodcut illus. several of the blocks are signed “L.” Text bordered by commentary remarkably the text itself is relegated to a small frame of only on average 4 x 3 inches and surrounded buy a much larger 10 x 7 inches gloss visually emphasizing the important of the commentary. Internally, some damp staining and toning or occasional white molding affecting some leaves. Binding: worming to wooden boards, text block cleanly separated form boards, later vellum spine, evidence of clasp, minor corner loss to one board. VERY RARE IN COMMERCE. WORLDCAT NOTES ONLY 1 COPY. Binding with two contemporary DRAWINGS of apparent bookbindings (one simple sketch to front cover) and a more elaborate design to rear cover.
“A critical text of the Heroides, surrounded by the notes of the outstanding Renaissance commentators. In addition to the letters, this edition has also the text to ‘In Ibin’, and the Vita Ovidii, by Antonius Volscus. The woodcut illustrations have a charm of their own. Most of them appear as panels in three parts, and many of them are genre scenes, unusual in the book illustration of the era, but in character with the contents of the book. Many of them illustrate women writing; almost all the different scenes show imagination and a certain technical skill. The title comes with an ornamental woodcut frame; another frame showing putti and mythological figures, adorns the first page of text. The origin of the woodcuts is Venice, and most of them seem to have been used in the edition of the Heroides which Tacuinus brought out in 1501. Sander 5279. who mentions only one other copy, in the Biblioteca Estense, in Modena. -A few stains, and some wormholes in the back part of the book.” [Ref: William Salloch]