I have often talked about my fondness for old books (see entries “Old Books”, “Cabinets of curiosities”, “2020 Antiquarian Book Fair”, “Latest acquisition” and “Natural History – Final research”). This interest was put on hold for a while since there was no antiquarian book fair during the pandemic. Until now. I was recently informed by Mr. Wilfrid de Freitas that the 29th Westmount Antiquarian Book Fair would be held on Saturday May 21 2022 at the Centre Greene (1090 Avenue Greene, Westmount) from 10:00 to 17:00. I couldn’t miss this.
I first took a quick tour of the place to spot interesting books. It was quick since it is a very small fair (“Canada’s Smallest Book Fair !”). I was mainly looking for 16th or 17th century editions of classical authors. Also, since I have books mostly in Greek, Latin and old French, I was looking maybe for a 17th or 18th century book in English. However my budget was limited to about $200. I found many interesting books but most of them were way over my budget, like a collection of letters from Italian artists by Giovanni Bottari (Italian, 1754-57, 2 vol. for $375) or The Shepherd Calendar by the poet Edmund Spencer (English, 1653, $3000 !!). Within five or ten minutes I had spotted two or three possible candidates for purchase:
- Aristotle’s Politics (Greek & Latin, 1621, $250 — very interesting but slightly over budget)
- Traduction des satyres de Perse et de Juvenal (French, 1714, $75 — within budget but 18th century)
- A Nuremberg Chronicle’s page (German, 1493, $350 — an in-folio, incunabulum page !!, a dream but too expansive, maybe another time?)
I looked around several time to make sure I didn’t miss anything and to ponder the expanse. After thirty minutes I took the plunge. I chose the first option, the 17th century edition of Aristotle’s Politics. The seller was Ayers Books (owned by Lindsay Bignell, they don’t have a physical location, sell only in book fair or by appointment and can be reach only by email or phone — see the contact information in the list of members of the “Confrérie de la Librairie Ancienne du Québec [CLAQ]”). Seeing that I was still hesitating, the nice lady offered me a discount of fifty dollars which brought the price right within my budget! Lucky me! Apparently the book was acquired from the succession of an old monk. It is a nice addition to my collection of old books. It is not my oldest book but it is one of the nicest (well preserved, my third oldest, second biggest and, above all, a very interesting subject).
Here’s the title page:
API𝚺TOTELOY𝚺 𝚷O𝚲ITIK𝛀N BIB.[λία] O.[κτώ] (Aristoteloys Politikon, Biblia Októ)
ARISTOTELIS POLITICORVM LIBRI VIII (Aristotle’s Politics, in eight books)
cum perpetua Danielis Heinsii (with the continuous Daniel Heinsius’)
in omnes libros paraphrasi (paraphrase of all the books)
accedit accuratus rerum index (including an accurate index of things)
LVGDVNI BATAVORVM (Leyden, Netherland)
Ex Officinâ ELZEVIRIANA (from the Elseviers’ Printing House)
ANNO clↄ Iↄ CXXI. (MDCXXI / Year 1621)
This book is an in octavo (8vo, i.e. about 5.25 x 7.25 inches / 13 x 18 cm), set in contemporary full vellum, yapp edges, handwritten title on the spine (faded in this case). Besides a few stain, annotations and worm holes it is in pretty good shape. It has 1045 pages, plus sixteen introductory pages and a forty pages index (so it is 2.5 inches thick). It is a first Elzevir edition, presenting the Greek and Latin texts in parallel, with a commented synopsis (in Latin) by Daniel Heins for each book. According to the colophon, the typesetting was done by Isaac Elzevir. [ Abe Books • Google • WorldCat ]
As we all know, Aristotle (Ἀριστοτέλης / Aristotélēs) was a greek philosopher, student of Plato, that lived in Athens and Macedonia (where he tutored Alexander the Great!) during the 4th century BCE (384–322). His thinking had a profound influence on the medieval scholars and it endured through the Renaissance up to the Enlightenment when new philosophers (like Descartes, Hume, Kant, Spinoza) built upon his work to develop a modern way of thinking. Aristotle wrote over one hundred and fifty treaties but only a third of his corpus survived and is available to us. It includes his Πολιτικά (Politiká / lit. “the things concerning the πόλις [polis]” i.e. Politics) which is a treaty of political philosophy. In it he discusses the various forms of communities, what constitute the best political regime, citizenship, welfare, constitutions, the education in an ideal state and even music theory!
I recently started to pay more attention to who were the publishers of those old books. They were often both printer, librarian, distributor and even scholar. This book was published by the Elzevir. The Elzeviers House (Wikipedia [FR/EN]; Encyclopedia Britannica; National Library of Belarus) is a publishing house founded by Lodewijk (Louis) Elzevir (1540-1617). He learned the trade by working at the printing shop of Christoffel Plantijn in Antwerp. He moved to Leyden around 1580 and his descendants continued publishing until 1791. When he died, his son Bonaventura took over the business. Bonaventura Elzevir (1583–1652) began publishing in 1608, and in 1626 he took into partnership his nephew Abraham Elzevir (son of his brother Matthijs [Matthieu]; (1592-1652)). In 1617, his other nephew (Matthijs’ second son), Isaac Elzevir (1596–1651), had acquired printing equipment that he gave to his oncle and brother in 1626 when he decided to change career (he purchased a tavern in Rotterdam).
Old books are fascinating objects even if you cannot read them. They open the door to so many questions and just thinking about who might have manipulated and read them throughout the centuries is quite enthralling. I hope I will have the chance to discover (and acquire — if my budget allows it) many more.
Incidentally, the next Antiquarian book fair will be held at the Concordia University (Pavillon McConnell (1400 Boul. De Maisonneuve O.) on October 1st (from 12:00 to 18:00) and 2nd (from 11:00 to 17:00). It is organized by the “Confrérie de la Librairie Ancienne du Québec” and will be a little bigger than the Westmount book fair.[ Traduire ]