ADMIRED BY TWAIN

The Adventures of a Bric-a-Brac Hunter …

London: Tinsley Brothers … 1868.

8vo., pp. vi, [2], 212, [4], with a half-title and publisher’s advertisements at the end; uncut in the original purple fine-grain cloth, gilt, spine and top edge of upper board a little faded (a common occurrence with this colour cloth; this is copy is better than others we have seen before).

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First edition of a charming travel guide to Europe for the dilletante porcelain collector; some of the sketches that make up the book first appeared in the Belgravia magazine.

The amiable author, who travelled Europe and the Near East as a military attaché indulging his passion for china, guides us through the flea-markets, galleries and private collections of Europe from Marseilles to London in search of ‘a Worcester or a Wedgwood vase, Sèvres, Dresden, or Vienna cups, Capo di Monte or Chelsea groups …’. He notes the indifferent wares of Istanbul’s bazaars, the duplicity of the dealers in Madrid, the wealth and quality of the private houses of St. Petersburg, and sprinkles his descriptions with anecdotes of eccentric individuals, recommendations of specific shops and factories, and musings on the character and inclinations of a collector.

In A Tramp Abroad (1880), Mark Twain saw in Hall a kindred spirit: ‘Many people say that for a male person, bric-a-brac hunting is about as robust a business as making doll-clothes, or decorating Japanese pots with decalcomanie butterflies would be, and these people fling mud at the elegant Englishman, Byng, who wrote a book called The Bric-a-Brac Hunter, and make fun of him for chasing around after what they choose to call “his despicable trifles”; and for “gushing” over these trifles … let these people rail on; they cannot feel as Byng and I feel – it is their loss, not ours. For my part I am content to be a brick-a-bracker and a ceramiker…’.

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