The beauty of the beetle has never been so exquisitely portrayed (Wolf).
Thomas Martyn (probably 1760 – 1816) was an English zoologist, conchologist and entomologist. Little is known about his life, other than that at 10 Great Marlborough Street, Westminster, he established an Academy for Drawing and Painting Natural History for young boys (ODNB). In 1784, Martyn wrote and published his major work, The Universal Conchologist.
This volume depicts varying genii of beetle in bright hand-colour, with an almost microscopic fidelity. Martyn’s importance as an artist and author is attested to by the prestige of his patronage – “[he] received gold medals for his work from Pope Pius VI, the Emperor Joseph II, Ferdinand IV of Naples and Charles IV of Spain” (Wolf, pg. 156), which are depicted in two sheets of engravings at the front of the volume. His work’s popularity is also accounted for by the 17th century upper classes’ penchant for ‘cabinets of curiosities’. William Beckford, the author of the Gothic novel Vathek and a great English collector of books and objects, owned a copy to add to his “cabinet of bibliographical rarities and freaks, each one a gem” (De Ricci, pg. 85).
Whilst the title-page offers the publication date as 1792, this copy is the 1793 reissue of the 1792 English-text edition, shown by the date (March 21 1793) at the bottom of dedication, which was added along with the supplementary French text (ESTC).
First edition, second issue. 4to, [iii], 33; [iv]p, 41, [iv]pp., 2 engraved calligraphic title-pages, 2 engraved numismatic plates, 42 hand-coloured engraved plates of beetles; ocassional spotting and dampstaining not affecting plates. Finely bound in contemporary red straight-grained morocco with intersecting rectangle and lozenge of blind ornamental rolls on covers by Samuel Welcher with his ticket, spine in four compartments, gilt lettering to second and third; spine slightly faded.
ESTC T80793. Seymour De Ricci, English Collectors of Books and Manuscripts: (1530-1930), CUP (2010). Legacies of Genius: A Celebration of Philadelphia Libraries, ed. Edwin Wolf (1988).
Stock ID: 90235