Microcosm of London


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(LONDON) (ACKERMANN, Rudolph) (PUGIN, Augustus Charles and ROWLANDSON, Thomas) [PYNE, William Henry and COMBE, William]. The Microcosm of London. London: T. Bensley, 1808-10. Three volumes. Folio (12 by 14 inches), 20th-century three-quarter crimson morocco rebacked with original spines neatly laid down, raised bands, marbled boards, top edges gilt.

First edition in book form, later issue (with the watermarks of some text leaves and plates bearing post-publication dates), of this splendid visual "treasure-house" of Regency London life, Ackermann's first and most famous color-plate book, with three wood-engraved title pages, three copper-engraved dedication leaves and 104 magnificent hand-colored aquatint plates after Rowlandson and Pugin. A handsome wide-margined copy.

"The Microcosm of London is one of the great color-plate books, and a carefully selected copy should form the cornerstone of any collection of books on this subject" (Tooley, 22). In the history of book production "there is no more attractive figure than that of Rudolph Ackermann, through whose extraordinary enterprise and spirit of adventure, aquatint was successfully applied to the illustration of books… [The Microcosm] is a perfect treasure-house of scenes, described with pen and brush, from the London of [two centuries] ago, the work of Rowlandson and Pugin being equally admirable… Two-thirds of the places illustrated have entirely passed away" (Prideaux). These 104 beautiful hand-colored aquatints were pulled and hand-colored in the Ackermann studio. The drawings for the plates were the joint efforts of Augustus Charles Pugin, who produced the architectural settings, and Thomas Rowlandson, who added the human figures. Pugin had learned aquatinting from Merigot and through his association with John Nash had also developed "an accuracy and knowledge of Gothic architecture [that was] influential in establishing a purer appreciation of the style" (Houfe, 266). Yet, "it is Rowlandson's artfully disposed figures, often shown by the hundred, that bring Pugin's spacious exteriors and interiors to life. No graphic artist has surpassed Rowlandson in presenting the patterned activity of day-to-day communal existence" (Ray, 27). His people "catch the spirit of Regency England in a lively blend of sentiment, realism, local atmosphere and occasional unexpected delicacy of feeling or character" (Harthan, 176). "Original impressions of these splendid plates have a luminous quality entirely absent from later printings" (Abbey, 138). The texts of Volumes I and II are by William Henry Pyne, who became "enamoured of book production" when he undertook his earlier History of the Royal Residences (1819), and Volume III is by William Combe, author of the famous "Dr. Syntax" series (1812-21), also illustrated by Rowlandson and published by Ackermann.

"Of the 60 or 70 copies I have examined… not one has been in the first state throughout" (Tooley)—this copy is mixed state, as almost always found; the text bears watermarks dated 1807 and 1818, and the plates bear Whatman watermarks dated 1816 and 1831. The text in this copy is third state, with Volume I errata corrected. The title page for Volume I in this copy is second state, without the comma after Bensley in the imprint and "Volume I" altered by the publisher from a Volume III title page when they ran out of Volume I title pages (see Abbey, 139). In nearly all copies of the Microcosm, some plates have been reworked: Plates 4, 8, 12, 17, 28 are Tooley's state a, Plates 1, 3, 5, 9, 10, 11, 18, 21, and 39 are Tooley's state b, and Plate 91 is Tooley's state c (as almost always). (Tooley does not differentiate states among the remaining plates.) Plates 28-30 are misnumbered (two are numbered 29) and Plate 85 is marked "Second." Plates 89 and 101 are present but bound out of sequence, as usually found. Originally issued in 26 monthly installments in Ackermann's Poetical Magazine (see Hodnett, 104). Bound with half titles. Abbey, Scenery 212. Tooley 7. Ray 33. Prideaux, 120-23.

Text and plates generally quite clean and fine, hand-coloring vivid. Only a few minor scuffs to bindings. A handsome copy.

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