Thursday, April 23, 2009

The 1508 edition

How a beautiful book of unknown origin became a treasure of the British Library.

[The title page of the 1508 edition.]


Only one copy remains of the earliest known edition of Amadís de Gaula.

I saw it on display at the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid. It's a handsome book, folio sized (15 inches/38 cm tall), bound in gilt-tooled red leather with gilt-edged pages. The text remains perfectly legible, and the title page confirms that it was printed by Jorge Coci in Zaragoza on October 30, 1508.

We know almost nothing else about the book, except that it didn't always look like that.

According to the Biblioteca Nacional, this copy was discovered by Edwin Tross, a bookseller, in Ferrera, Italy, in 1872. We don't know how he found it, where it came from, or how he resold it. Tross was a German who lived in Paris, where he died in 1875.

Tross sold it to Baron Achille Seillière, a French booklover, known for his Bibliotèque de Mello. As was his custom, he had the book rebound, which destroyed any marks that might have indicated a previous owner or library cataloging.

After the death of Seillière in 1873 and of one of his sons in 1887, part of his library was sold by Sotheby's of London. The book was bought by Bernard Quaritch, a London bookseller, and he eventually sold it in June, 1895, to the British Museum in London for 200 pounds sterling.

The 1508 edition of Amadís de Gaula is currently held by the British Library in London, catalog number C.20.e.6.

And that's all we know.

Ye may be interested in NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day for April 17, Medieval Astronomy from Melk Abbey:

The previous day's picture is of a castle and full moon:

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