May 2011 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Catalogue Review: Blackwell's Rare Books

Catalogue Review: Blackwell's Rare Books: Catalogue B167

Blackwell's of Oxford, England, is a very well known bookshop that stocks 200,000 new titles, as well as having a large secondhand section, and a rare books department. It is located opposite the Bodleian Library. For those of you, like me, who are quite desperate to visit but must be satisfied for now with catalogues, fear not. Blackwell's produces the quintessential antiquarian book catalogue--one hundred pages showing a wide variety of antiquarian, modern, and private press books in a range of prices, with exceptional descriptions and enticing images that pepper the text.

In the first section of the catalogue, an extra-illustrated first edition of Ann Radcliffe's popular gothic novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance (£2,500), jumped off the page. The four-volume set from 1794 has some minor issues, but the small engravings of castles and landscape gardens  are "rather endearing," notes the catalogue.

In the second section of the catalogue--modern first editions and illustrated books--D.H. Lawrence, Ian McEwan, Somerset Maugham, and Iris Murdoch are dominating names in limited editions, first editions, and signed editions. I'm partial to Julia Margaret Cameron's Victorian Photographs of Famous Men & Fair Women (£800), which was printed by the Hogarth Press in 1926 and has an introduction by Virginia Woolf.

The third section contains a wonderful selection of private presses, from Golden Cockerel to Gregynog, Nonesuch to Old Stile. Swinburne's Dead Love and Other Inedited Pieces (£250), published by the Mosher Press in Portland, ME, in 1901 looks lovely. As does Loyd Haberly's Poems (£200), printed by Seven Acres Press in 1930. Haberly was a poet, a professor of English, a university dean, and a collector of books about book arts.

When I reached the end of the catalogue, a beautiful woodcut prompted me to turn back to item #100, one of the catalogue's big-ticket books. Passio domini nostri Jesu Christi... (£10,000), printed in Strasbourg in 1507, with woodcuts by Urs Graf. Aside from its beauty, the catalogue notes that this book is "covered in binder's waste wrappers, a middle eleventh century manuscript on vellum, written in a later Caroline minuscule bookhand..." What a treasure!

To find your own treasure, download this entire catalogue by clicking here