VIRGIL. Bucolica, Georgica, et Aeneis.

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VIRGIL. Bucolica, Georgica, et Aeneis. Birmingham, John Baskerville, 1757.

4to. Bound in contemporary speckled calf, edges sprinkled red, recently rebacked in calf with spine ruled in compartments, and red morocco lettering piece; extremities and corners slightly worn; pp. [10 (title and list of subscribers)], 1-231, 233-432, [24 (blank)]; light dampstaining to lower outer corner, a little offsetting to title, occasional light spotting and finger-soiling, closed tear to lower margin of f. Oo1, but overall very good. Provenance: nineteenth-century armorial bookplate of Charles Ormston Eaton (1827-1907), an English catholic, banker, and first-class cricketer, to front pastedown.
First edition of John Baskerville’s Virgil, his first and arguably finest book, and the debut of Baskerville’s iconic typeface.
Work on printing began as early as 1754. Baskerville’s elegant new types were cut for him by the punchcutter John Handy. Admired by fellow printer Benjamin Franklin (his name figures on the book’s list of subscribers), these types were characterised by their balance, delicacy, and clarity. Baskerville carefully curated the book’s typographic design and made his own deep black ink. Moreover, he was the first to use wove paper (and not laid paper), specially manufactured for him by James Whatman. This smoother printing surface was further enhanced by ‘hot-pressing’ the printed sheets between hot copper plates, as they came from the press. Both Brunet and Renouard regarded the Virgil as the best and most sought-after of the Baskerville quarto classics. An inferior reimpression on cheaper paper appeared a few years later but with the same date as the first edition. Given that Baskerville’s Virgil was highly desired by eighteenth-century collectors, the reimpression was likely made to be sold dishonestly as the first edition.
Brunet V 1292: ‘chef d’œuvre de Baskerville’; Gaskell I ‘Baskerville’s first and perhaps finest book’; Renouard, Bibliothèque d’un amateur II 244 : ‘le Virgil est, à tous égards, le plus beau’. See PMM.