London: Published by Thomas McLean… Printed by W. Lewis, 1821. Item #05106
"Considered the Most Comprehensive and Most Famous Work by Henry Alken" (Dixon)
With the Hand Colored Frontispiece dated 1820
ALKEN, Henry. The National Sports of Great Britain. By Henry Alken. With Descriptions, in English and French. London: Published by Thomas McLean… Printed by W. Lewis, 1821 [-1820].
First edition. Large folio (19 x 12 inches; 482 x 305 mm.). [2, title in English, verso title in French], [2, preface in English], [2, preface in French], [2, contents in English, verso contents in French], 50 leaves of text with English on recto and French on verso. Hand-colored aquatint frontispiece dated 1820 with small and inoffensive 1/8 inch wide marginal stain just extending into the image; Hand-colored aquatint frontispiece dated 1821, and fifty superb hand colored aquatint plates, each with a corresponding leaf of text with English on the recto and French on the verso.
Contemporary full green straight-grain morocco gilt. Covers elaborately bordered and decorated in gilt. In the center of both covers the sporting crest of Sir Walter Gilbey. Expertly and almost invisibly rebacked with the original smooth spine laid down, elaborately tooled and lettered in gilt in compartments, gilt board-edges and turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Housed in a cream moiré silk lined, quarter green morocco over green cloth, clamshell case. Spine with six shallow raised bands, decoratively tooled in black and lettered in gilt in compartments.
Ten of the plates are watermarked "J. Whatman 1820" (1), "1821" (2), 1822" (6) & "1823" (1). The text is watermarked "J. Whatman 1818 and 1819".
The present copy in a fine contemporary binding, and has both the exceptionally rare first issue frontispiece bearing the date 1820, and the more usual second issue frontispiece bearing the date 1821. Most copies, including that which is in the British Museum only have the 1821 frontispiece.
Hand colored additional frontispiece with with small and inoffensive 1/8 inch wide marginal stain just extending into the image; plate 5 "Racing plate III" just touching plate mark; small expertly repaired (one inch) tear to foremargin of plate 5 "Racing plate III" just touching plate mark; small expertly repair (5/8 x 1/2 inch) to corner of plate 11 "Earth-Stopping"; very small (3/8 inch) adhesion in sky from opposite text to plate 34 "Pigeon Match". Some very light fox marks and minimal offsetting throughout. We have been super critical in our description - this is a spectacular copy from the great sporting library of Sir Walter Gilbey.
This work includes images of every imaginable British sport, from racing to owling, and is recognized as Alken's most ambitious work, and one of the great 19th-century color-plate books.
"It must always form the cornerstone of any Alken collection" (Tooley).
"The "National Sports" is perhaps Alken's best known and most comprehensive work… Copies of the second issue are, however, by no means common, owing to the former practice of breaking up the volume and selling the plates, which are most attractive, as sets of sporting prints." (Schwerdt I, p. 19).
With "aquatints of exceptional quality considered by many to be Alken's greatest achievement and one of Britain's finest sporting books". (Litchfield).
"Some of the plates are watermarked "1822" as usual" (Dixon).
Provenance: Sir Walter Gilbey, 1st Baronet (1831-1914) was an English wine-merchant and philanthropist. He became well known as a breeder of shire horses, and he did much to improve the breed of English horses (other than race-horses) generally, and wrote extensively on the subject, including the encyclopedic Animal Painters of England From the Year 1650: A brief history of their lives and works. He became president of the Shire Horse Society, of the Hackney Horse Society, and of the Hunters' Improvement Society, and he was the founder and chairman of the London Cart Horse Parade Society. He was also a practical agriculturist, and president of the Royal Agricultural Society. He was appointed a deputy lieutenant of Essex in 1906.
Bobins II, 746; Dixon, 26; Mellon/Snelgrove 94; Schwerdt I, p.19 & IV, p. 4; Siltzer, P. 70; Tooley 41; Not in Abbey.