One Hundred Fables,; Original and Selected by James Northcote, R.A. Embellished with Two Hundred and Eighty Engravings on Wood

In a Magnificent Leopard-Skin Binding That Roars

[BINDING, Animal Skin]. NORTHCOTE, James. [HARVEY, William, engraver]. One Hundred Fables, Original and Selected by James Northcote, R.A. Embellished with Two Hundred and Eighty Engravings on Wood. London: Geo. Lawford, 1828.

First edition, a large-paper copy. Quarto (10 1/8 x 5 7/8 in; 257 x 149 mm). [2], iii, [1, blank], 272 pp. Title page in black and red with woodcut vignette. 280 wood engravings as head- and tail-pieces and historiated initials.

Contemporary deep oxblood goatskin with a gilt and blindstamped frame enclosing a central panel of full leopard skin to refer to the leopard found in the woodcut accompanying The Lion and the Council of Beasts (p. 52). Gilt strapwork to spine with date stamped at tail. Broad turn-ins with multiple gilt fillets, thick and thin, and gilt corner ornaments. All edges gilt. Bookplate of F. Hornsby Wright, with neat signature of his ancestor, Joseph Wright, the original owner of this copy, to title page. A magnificent copy.

A signed autograph note by F. Hornsby Wright ( a director of Arnot and Harrison, an engineering and toolmaking company that worked in early British aeronautics and automobile manufacture), tipped-in to the front free-endpaper, reads: "Joseph Wright 1769-1836 while quartered at Tower of London a leopard which was held there died and part of its skin was used to bind this book." Joseph Wright lived in the Tower as part of the its military guard.

Beginning in 1210, the Tower of London housed the Royal Menagerie. "For over 600 years, animals were kept at the Tower for the entertainment and curiosity of the court. Everything from elephants to tigers, kangaroos and ostriches lived in what was known as the Royal Menagerie. Under James I, the bloody sport of baiting became very popular and a platform was built over the dens so that the King and his courtiers could watch lions, bears and dogs being made to fight each other to the death.
In later years, the variety of animals at the Tower increased and the Menagerie became a popular attraction. At the Royal Menagerie, visitors could see strange and rare beasts that they would never have seen before. The Menagerie finally closed after several incidents where the animals had escaped and attacked each other, visitors and Tower staff. The Duke of Wellington, who was Constable of the Tower, ordered the animals to leave and in 1832 they arrived at their new home in London Zoo" (Historic Royal Places - Tower of London). We know that in 1829 the Royal Menagerie was home to three leopards, one less, apparently, than in 1828 when an anonymous leopard gave its life to become immortalized in this binding.

James Northcote (1736-1841) was a renowned British painter and member of the Royal Academy who also sought fame as an author. His Fables, the first series published in 1828, the second posthumously in 1833, were illustrated with woodcuts by William Harvey from Northcote's own designs.

"The original invention and designs for the prints at the head of each fable are my own, yet they have been most excellently drawn on wood and prepared for the engravers by Mr. William Harvey ... the ornamental letter at the beginning of each fable and the vignette at the end are solely the invention of Mr. Harvey" (from the Preface). Item #02131

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