SHELLS, FROM A TO Z

Conchyliologie nouvelle et portative, ou collection de coquilles propres à orner les cabinets des curieux de cette partie d’Histoire Naturelle, mises par ordre alphabétique, avec les notes des endroits d’où elle se tirent, & des cabinets qui renferment les plus rares.

Paris, ‘chez Regnard, Imprimeur de l’Académie Françoise’, 1767.

12mo, pp. 328, [5], [1, blank]; woodcut initial, head- and tailpieces; some light soiling and spotting especially to first few leaves, title-page trimmed a little shorter at fore-edge and with small hole to upper corner neatly repaired, lower corner of Z1 neatly restored, but overall a very good clean copy; in modern marbled paper over boards, red morocco lettering-piece to spine.

£400

Approximately:
US $517€475

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Conchyliologie nouvelle et portative, ou collection de coquilles propres à orner les cabinets des curieux de cette partie d’Histoire Naturelle, mises par ordre alphabétique, avec les notes des endroits d’où elle se tirent, & des cabinets qui renferment les plus rares.

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First edition, uncommon, of this pocket guide to the then relatively new craze for collecting shells.

Antoine Joseph Dezallier d’Argenville (1680–1765) was a Parisian lawyer, horticulturist, and an avid collector of drawings, paintings, shells, fossils, rocks, and other objets de curiosité. A prolific author, his writings reflected his eclectic interests. In 1709, he published his Théorie et pratique du jardinage, which underwent multiple reissues and was translated into English and German. His study on fossils and shells, the Histoire naturelle éclaircie dans deux de ses parties principales: la lithologie et la conchyliologie, appeared in 1742 and was followed fifteen years later by a description of shelled animals, titled Zoomorphose. Dezallier’s publications on art history include the Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, which appeared in 1745 and was expanded in 1752 and 1762. He contributed to the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert with articles on gardening and hydraulics, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1750.

An all-round collector’s guide to shells, Dezallier’s Conchyliologie nouvelle offers an introduction to conchology complete with a classification system, an annotated species catalogue, and a list of contemporary French and foreign collections, sorted alphabetically by owner’s name. By distilling scientific information from his own Histoire naturelle and several ancient and modern authors, Dezallier responded to the changing collecting preferences of the French elite during the eighteenth century. This shift, noted by Krzysztof Pomian, saw a decline in interest for medals and the ever-growing passion for shells and natural history in general. In 1742 there were seven natural history collections in Paris; by 1757 there were twenty, and when Dezallier wrote his Conchyliologie nouvelle he listed fifty shell collectors in Paris, thirty-six collectors in the rest of France and forty-two collectors in Europe. Among these names, we find members of the aristocracy (such as the French astronomer and physicist Michel Ferdinand d’Albert, 1714–1769), doctors (‘M. Moran, Chirurgien-Major des Invalides’), and merchants (‘M. Bisschop, Négociant à Basle’). Religious communities, such the Parisian abbey of Sainte Genevieve, are also featured. Seven collections were owned by women, including the German princess and noted book collector Christiane Henriette of Waldeck-Pyrmont (1725–1816) and the celebrated French actress Mademoiselle Clairon (1723–1803).

See Pomian, Collectors and Curiosities: Paris and Venice 1500–1800 (1990).

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