One of the Scarcest of All 19th Century Color-Plate Books
"The Rarest Alken Item" (Abbey)
Only One Copy At Auction Since 1974
Only One Copy in Institutional Holdings
ALKEN, Henry. Military Duties, Occurances &c. &c. [aka Marine And Military Views]. [London]: Thomas McLean 26 Haymarket, [n.d., c. 1820].
First edition (variant) of "the rarest Alken item" (Abbey); an astonishingly scarce volume. Quarto (10 1/4 x 7 in; 260 x 175 mm). Forty-three (of fifty-six) hand-colored etched plates inlaid within a window cut from a leaf of gray paper with an elaborately engraved border surrounding the print. Title and captions in manuscript. Image size: 3 1/8 x 4 3/4 inches (113 x 79 mm) for etchings 1-40; 3 5/8 x 5 3/4 inches (91 x 147 mm), etchings 41-56.
Contemporary full emerald-green straight-grain morocco. Blind-tooled border within French fillets. Central panel with gilt ruled borders and ornamented corners. All edges gilt. Chemised within a quarter morocco slipcase. The missing plates have long ago been neatly removed, or have fallen out (due to brittle glue), from their frames. The remaining plates are as clean and fresh as one could hope for. Some rubbing, front hinge starting. Otherwise an excellent copy of one of the scarcest of all 19th century color-plate books.
Only one copy has come to auction within the last thirty-five years; it, too, incomplete. OCLC/KVK note only one copy in institutional holdings, at Yale; it is, apparently the only complete copy to be recorded, presumably the same copy noted by Abbey as being sold in 1907. The only other copy to come under Abbey's notice was incomplete. This, then, is only the fourth copy to be recorded.
This copy is the variant noted by Abbey (#349) of Alken's Marine And Military Views: A Collection of of Interesting Subjects of Marine Views, Military Parade, Hunting, Coursing, Racing &c &c .
"The rarest Alken item: unknown to Siltzer, Slater and Schwerdt. Two other copies only can be traced: one, in the possession of D.C. Colman, Esq., and the second a sale room record for December 1907…According to the sale record the date of the book is 1830, but it would appear highly probable that it was considerably earlier, for the following reasons: spelling of the publisher's name as McLane and not McLean places it before 1830, and the few plates that portray actual historical incidents all bear on the Russian campaign against Napoleon. Further, by 1830 the work of Alken was devoted to sporting subjects only. A reasonable guess at the correct date is more likely than 1822 or 1823, and probably even before 1820" (Abbey).
Abbey notes of the second copy that "the title, however, is a variant [as here], giving the artist's name, and with a title more in consonance with the lettering on the spine, as follows: Military Duties / Occurances &c &c / By / Henry Alken / Collected and Published / by / Thomas McLane / 26 / Haymarket." In the copy under notice, the publisher is spelled "McLean," not McLane.
"The copy sold in 1907 was given the following description in the sale catalogue: 'Alken, H. Military duties, Occurances etc., 56 coloured etchings, inlaid with titles in MSS. So few copes were issued that it was not considered worth while by the publishers to have a title printed.' (Book Auction Records, Dec. 1907)" (Abbey).
The Plates (as numbered by Abbey):
3. The Muster
4. The General's Tent
6. The Barrack Yard
7. Flying Artillery
8. The Forelorn Hope
9. An Ambuscade
10. The Ferry
12. A Tatar Camp
15. Death of Ponitawski
17. Fording a River
20. A Bovouac
25. The Spy
26. The Out Post
29. The March
33. American Bushmen
34. The Stable
38. Russian Couriers
39. Circassian Prisoners
40. Death of the Young Count Platoff.
41. - 56 (lacking 3). Untitled, as noted by Abbey.
Lacks Abbey's #2 (The Call); #11 (The Gazette); #13 (Guerilla Party); #16 (Halt); #18 (The Action); #19 (Punishment); #21 (Storming the Entrenchments); # 28 (Prisoners); #30 (The Last Duty); and #35 (Humanity). The three plates lacking from #41-#56 are unknown; they were not issued with title.
Abbey, Life 349. Index to British Military Costume Prints 1500-1914, 41. Bobbins, The Exotic and the Beautiful, 341.
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