Ursus Rare Books has released a catalogue of Nineteenth Century Illustrated Books. There are all types of books here, historical, scientific, mathematical, political, architectural, educational, children's, etc. The common element beyond date is being illustrated, not just ordinary illustrations but those requiring highly skilled artists and often hand-coloring. They are always worth looking at, even if you don't read them. Here are a few of these items.
We begin with a picture book about San Francisco. It contain 67 photogravures. The title is Select San Francisco. What makes it particularly interesting is the date – 1898. If Chicago has its ante-fire images then San Francisco has its ante-earthquake images. The earthquake came just eight years later and San Francisco has never looked the same again. Item 72. Priced at $2,500.
Next we have a book of illustrations for one of the grandest of architectural projects, perhaps the greatest one never built. The book is Projetto sul Foro Bonaparte che doveva Eseguirsi in Milano in 24 Gran Tavole (Project on the Forum Bonaparte which was to be carried out in Milan in 24 large tables), published in 1814. The architect was Giovanni Antonio Antolini. With the French controlling Milan, Antolini was commissioned to design the grand Foro Bonaparte. The plan was to move the city center to the Sforza Castle, which had been scheduled for demolition. The castle would be like the Forum in Rome, surrounded by Doric columns. Outside that would have been a plaza, which would then be surrounded by various government buildings, a court house, public baths, universities, theaters and museums. It was a spectacular project and reportedly, Napoleon liked it. That's not surprising as it was to be named for him. However, the project proved a bit too grand for a city the size of Milan and it was never built. Item 11. $35,000.
In this next book, the story wasn't real either, though the images were. Item 17 is Le Voyageur Anglais Autour du Monde Habitable: Nouvelle Méthode Amusante et Instructive pour étudier la Géographie...Orné de 45 Gravures coloriees... (The English Traveler Around the Habitable World: A Fun and Instructive New Method of Studying Geography... Decorated with 45 Colored Engravings). The teacher here was Rene Périn. Périn was a playwright and novelist with many works to his credit. This one was intended to teach children about the world. It follows the adventures of English travelers Felix and Felicia. However, there was no Felix nor Felicia. They were imaginary, but the places they visited were not. They visited London, Paris, St. Petersburg, Naples, Washington, Peking, Cairo, Buenos Aires, and many others. Those sites are illustrated and there are maps and plates of costumes. It is described as a translation, and Périn was also a translator, but there does not appear to be an English edition from which this was translated. That's likely just one more fiction. $3,500.
This is surely one of the most amazing illustrated books of the 19th century. What makes it even more amazing is that it was not meant to be a work of art. It's just a math book. The title is The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid in which Coloured Diagrams and Symbols are used instead of Letters for the Greater Ease of Learners, by Oliver Byrne, published in 1847. It is fantastically colorful, but for the life of me I can't figure out why Byrne thought it made learning Euclid easier. Nonetheless, he claimed, “It is based on the theory that by means of colour the Elements of Euclid can be acquired in less than one third the time usually employed.” What it did was to replace letters in equations, like a + b = c, with colored shapes, squares, triangles, rectangles, featuring what has been described as “a riot of color.” Mathematically, I find it impossible to follow, but the pre-cubist art is awesome. Ruari McLean describes it as “one of the oddest and most beautiful books of the whole century.” Item 33. $22,500.
That was not the only odd mathematical book Byrne published. Less well known is this one – The Young Geometrician; or Practical Geometry without Compasses, published in 1865. It too uses brightly colored figures to teach geometry. Ursus says of this book, “While clearly not as dazzling as that book (the Euclid), it is still a tour de force of the imagination and also possess a modern feel, like the Euclid.” There is a pocket in the back that once held two triangular forms and a ruler but they are missing from this copy. Item 54. $4,750.
Here is an item that would look great hanging on your wall, provided you have a wall that is 15 meters (50 feet) long. It's a scroll that measures 14.4 meters in length when unrolled. The scroll is a panorama depicting the 1833 Fetes des Vignerons (winemakers' festival) in Vevey, Switzerland. Vevey is noted as the home of Nestle, which makes excellent hot chocolate but not much in the way of wine, but the wine there must be good too. These wine festivals have been taking place since 1791, but not that often, four or five times per century. You will have a bit of a wait for the next one since the last festival was held in 2019. The scroll is composed of 30 consecutive lithographs, all hand-colored at the time of publication. The result is a continuous depiction of the procession. The artist was Christian Gottlieb Steinlen of Vevey, who was the official artist of the festival. Item 21. 15,000.