PIRIE'S PFORZHEIMER

The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library: English Literature, 1475–1700.

New York, Privately Printed [at the Morrill Press], 1940.

Three vols, tall 4to, with 3 frontispieces, each with tissue guard, and 80 leaves of plates, of which several printed on both sides; half-titles, titles printed in red and black, limitation to each volume numbered ‘17’; an excellent set in the original beige cloth, ‘CHP’ monogram blocked in gilt to boards, gilt red morocco lettering-pieces to spines, top-edges gilt, others uncut, preserved in the matching slipcase, numbered ‘17’ in gilt; a few very slight marks to boards, otherwise a pristine copy; pencil correction to vol. I, p. 278, Robert Pirie Reference Library booklabels to front pastedowns, bookplate of John de Zulueta to vol. I

£3500

Approximately:
US $4520€4150

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First edition, limited, numbered 17 of 150 copies and signed by Pforzheimer on the frontispiece portrait, from the library of the pre-eminent collector of English literature Robert S. Pirie.

From his beginnings as a runner on Wall Street, the pioneer banker and founder of the American Stock Exchange Carl H. Pforzheimer (1879–1957) became one of the foremost private book collectors of the twentieth century by his mid-forties, competing at auctions with Folger, Huntington, and Rosenbach to acquire rarities including a perfect copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the 1535 Coverdale Bible, and an early Shakespeare quarto with the only perfect copy known of the Tragedy of Richard III.

The collection was ‘principally one of classical English books from the beginning of printing to 1700; that is, of major literature between Henry VII and William and Mary. It contains most of the great monuments of Renaissance poetry and prose, from Caxton, Chaucer, Spenser and Shakespeare to Bacon, Donne, Milton, the English Bible, Elizabethan, Jacobean and Restoration drama, and the earliest translations of major foreign authors. The heart of it is set out fully in the famous three-volume catalogue, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library, English Literature, 1475–1700 (New York, 1940), begun by Emma Va. Unger, directly supervised by the collector, and upon her retirement completed by W.A. Jackson. The Catalogue remains the standard bibliographical reference work for its period – owing very largely to the excellence of the library it describes. It enumerates over eleven hundred English books (including a very few duplicates), some 675 of which are STC, i.e., printed before 1641, and 450 Wing, i.e., printed between 1641 and 1701; there are also above 250 manuscripts or coherent groups of manuscripts of the same period’ (Quaritch).

‘The descriptions of the 1,105 printed books and 169 autographs and manuscripts are the chef d’oeuvre of William A. Jackson and the non plus ultra of “critical” bibliography as postulated by Sir Walter Greg … The catalogue is a model of its kind’ (Breslauer & Folter).

On Pforzheimer’s death in 1957, the library passed to the Carl H. and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation. When sold en bloc by Quaritch in 1986 – with the exception of the Romantics collection, now at the New York Public Library – it was reported as ‘the largest transaction of rare books ever made’; it is now held at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas.

Provenance: From the collection of Robert S. Pirie (1934−2015), which began with a copy of Donne’s Pseudo-Martyr (1610) purchased from Quaritch for £65 and grew to be ‘one of the finest private libraries of English literature, not just of our time but of all time’ (James Stourton).

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography: Its History and Development (1984) 162. See Barker, The Pirie Library (2019);. The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library (Quaritch, 1977).

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