Baskerville's Magnum Opus
"The Least Common" Issue
Magnificently Bound By An Anonymous Master
[BIBLE IN ENGLISH]. The Holy Bible, Containing the Old Testament and the New Translated Out of the Original Tongues, and With the Former Translations Diligently Compared and Revised, by His Majesty's Special Command. Appointed to be Read in Churches. Cambridge: Printed by John Baskerville, Printer to the University, 1763.
First edition, second issue of the Subscriber's list, "the least common" (Gaskell), with list ending with Rev. David Yarrow of Hadley. Two large folio (19 3/4 x 12 5/8 in; 502 x 321 mm). volumes.  unpaginated leaves. Text in double columns. List of Subscribers bound following Dedication.
Magnificently and extravagantly bound in full contemporary black goatskin in classic Cambridge style with gilt-rolled dog-tooth border enclosing an outer panel with external gilt cresting rolled border with various gilt tool inserts and internal single fillet and dog-tooth roll, and an inner panel reiterating the external with different tools, the two connected at their corners with diagonal gilt tooling, the external panel graced with gilt floral bouquets in vases as corner pieces. Spine compartments ornately decorated with massed gilt dots, stars, suns, Royal crowns, fleurons, rondels, annular dots, rosettes, fillets, and arabesques with unusual gilt insect and stag tools at foot. Red goatskin spine labels with gilt decoration and ornaments. Gilt-tooled edges. A splendid and very fine copy.
The binding is nearly as fresh as the day it was finished c. 1763. It is indeed somewhat of a miracle that it has survived just one short of two-hundred and fifty years in its original state.
This copy very likely bound for an individual of great financial means and member of the British royalty: Because of the high cost in the mid-eighteenth century of individually binding both volumes in a two volume set, particularly for oversized books, as here, they were routinely bound as one, and it would be something of a sacrilege if not actual crime to use Royal crown tools on a non-Royal copy.
Despite an exhaustive search through the references usual and obscure, as well as consultation with binding specialists, we have been, alas, unable to identify the binder whose work here is nothing short of a masterpiece.
"Aesthetically, the highest point in English Bible printing so far was John Baskerville's folio printed at Cambridge in 1763. To achieve this ambition to print a folio Bible, Baskerville had to become University Printer on not very advantageous terms. The Bible uses his types, paper and ink, and shows his characteristic 'machine-made' finish: very smooth and even in color and impression, with glossy black ink on smooth paper. He design is traditinal but the quality of material and workmanship is so high, and the conventions are so delicately modified and consistently applied that the result is extremely impressive" (Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day, p. 464).
"One of the most beautifully printed books in the world" (Dibdin). This edition of the Bible "has always been regarded as Baskerville's magnum opus, and is his most magnificent as well as his most characteristic specimen" T.B. Reed, A History of the Old English Foundries, p. 279).
"The adjective that inevitably comes to mind is 'noble' and the volume warrants the word. It was conceived and executed on a grand scale, as the printer's masterpiece..." (Pardoe, F.E. John Baskerville of Birmingham, p. 87).
Originally priced at four guineas in sheets for subscribers "the edition consisted of 1250 copies, of which 556 were remaindered in 1768 and bought by the London bookseller R. Baldwin at 36 shillings each...Baldwin was offering copies at three guineas in sheets in 1771" (Gaskell).
Gaskell, Bibliography of John Baskerville 26. Darlow & Moule 857. Herbert 1146. Huntington Library, Great Books in Great Editions 6. Item #02081
Out of stock