London: R. Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, 1808. Item #03484
With Nine of Abbey's Twelve Key Plates in Their First "Luminous" State
An Extraordinary Copy Bound in Early Nineteenth Century Scored Calf
[ACKERMANN, R[udolph]. The Microcosm of London; or, London in Miniature]. London: R. Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, [1808-1810].
First edition, early issue, bound from the original parts, with nine of Abbey's twelve key plates in their first state. Text watermarked J. Whatman 1806 and 1807; plates watermarked J. Whatman 1806, 1807 and 1808. "Contents" leaf in volume one in first state. With all of the errata uncorrected, except for that reading “coustom” for “custom” on p. 218 of Volume I (see Abbey, Scenery, p. 138).
Three large quarto volumes (13 x 10 7/8 inches; 330 x 277 mm.). iv, 1, contents], [1, blank], -231, [1, blank]; [iii]-vi, [1, contents], [1, blank], 239, [1, blank]; [iii]-iv, [1, contents], [1, publisher’s note], 280, [6, index and errata] pp. Bound from the original parts without the half-titles, as was quite often the case. Woodcut title and engraved dedication leaf in each volume.
With 104 hand-colored aquatint plates, including fifty-four by J. Bluck, twenty-nine by J.C. Stadler, ten by T. Sutherland, ten by J. Hill, and one by Harraden, after Rowlandson and Pugin. First state of Abbey's key plates 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Plates 3 and 39 in second state as usual, plate 91 in third state. The plates all with tissue guards loosely inserted, all bright and fresh and without the offsetting from the plates to the text that is normally seen. Apart from some minor foxing to the preliminary leaves of each volume, this is the cleanest and certainly the finest copy of the Microcosm that we have ever seen.
Contemporary full red scored calf, covers elaborately bordered in gilt, spine with five raised bands, elaborately decorated and lettered in gilt in compartments, gilt board-edges, elaborate gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Each volume in a red calf chemise, decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt, each in a red board slipcase.
All volumes with a small (unidentified) German Library label on front free-endpaper.
"The book was issued in twenty-six monthly parts, each part containing four plates, and at 7s. a part, a price that was advanced early on to 10. 6d. for non-subscribers. A thousand sets are said to have been issued, a statement that may be correct for the original part publication, but must be considerably short of the final number, when bound sets distributed later are taken into account"
"At the end of the third volume, a list of thirteen errata for the three volumes is given. If these have been corrected then the set will be found to be a late issue: if all the errata are uncorrected (this is rare), then the book has been bound from parts; the same claim of part binding can be made for sets that have errata uncorrected except for that reading 'coustom' for 'custom' on page 218 of volume 1. This is the case with the present copy -- all errata uncorrected except one." (Abbey).
“The [book's] striking feature is not so much the text (though the third volume is notable as the work of W. Combe) but the coloured illustrations, in this case the combined work of Pugin and Rowlandson…The pictures in this book cover all the well-known public buildings of London—churches, banks, prisons, theatres, etc.,—capitally portrayed by Pugin…The great metropolis, with its high life and low, its light and its shade, could have had no one better fitted [than Rowlandson] to portray its inmates. The spirited figures that he adds to Pugin’s backgrounds show that his talents were not limited to the ludicrous and grotesque. With the happiest faculty for expressing character, he is equally at home amid a serious discussion of naval policy at the Admiralty Board-Room, or among the excited, gambling crowd of the Royal Cockpit. At Westminster Abbey or Bridewell, the College of Physicians or Billingsgate, everywhere he has seized on the essential features and the typical frequenters of the place…The book is a living and delightful record of the old metropolis of [two] hundred years ago, the London of Lamb, Jane Austen, Dickens, and Thackeray, of places and incidents that are now mere memories” (Martin Hardie, pp. 101-102).
“The ‘Microcosm of London’ is one of the great colour-plate books, and a carefully selected copy should form the corner stone of any collection of books on this subject. The plates by Rowlandson and Pugin present an unrivaled picture of London in early 19th century, of historic value, as many of the buildings no longer exist” (Tooley). Early impressions are particularly prized: “original impressions of these splendid plates have a luminous quality entirely absent from later printings” (Abbey).
Abbey, Scenery, 212. Adams, London Illustrated, 99. Martin Hardie, pp. 100-103. Prideaux, pp. 121-124 and 348. Tooley 7.