Lot 43
  • 43

Martyn, Thomas

25,000 - 30,000 USD
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  • The Universal Conchologist exhibiting the figure of every known shell, accurately drawn and painted after nature ... Figures of nondescript shells collected in the different voyages to the South Sea since the year 1764. London: Thomas Martyn, 1789
  • paper, ink, leather
2 volumes in one. 4to (13 1/4 x 10 7/8 in.; 336 x 276 mm). Parallel text in French and English. Engraved title and secondary title, both in French and English, engraved dedication to the King, 2 engraved plates of medals, 1 hand-colored engraved frontispiece (the image within a gilt neo-classical border, as issued), 80 engraved plates finely hand-colored in imitation of watercolors, each numbered in ink and protected by a facing guard of thin blank paper. Extra-illustrated with 19 hand-coloured variant plates, and a related 3pp. ALS tipped in at front; lacks the two engraved Explanatory Table leaves found in some copies. Near-contemporary red straight-grained morocco, covers with a gilt neo-classical border built up from fillets, a Greek-key roll and a decorative roll, neatly rebacked, the flat spine divided into six compartments by fillets, lettered in the second compartment, the others with a repeat decoration in gilt, gilt turn-ins, brown endpapers, gilt edges.


James Wiglesworth (Halifax, 1759-1826, inscription, dated 1818, presenting the book to his nieces); Elizabeth, Barbara, Mary and Dorothy Gorst (inscription); Arthur Blok (Rottingdean, Sussex, d.1974, 3pp. ALS, dated 7 September 1934, concerning the book from conchologist Alfred Santer Kennard).


BM(NH) III, p.1258; Brunet III, 1507; Ferguson I, 40; Forbes I, 176; Nissen ZBI 2728; Spence p.39.

Catalogue Note

A fine extra-illustrated copy of the second edition of one of "the most beautiful of all shell books, containing exquisite renderings of shells collected on Cook's three voyages and on other voyages, with specimens identified as having been obtained from New Holland, New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga, and the Hawaiian Islands" (Forbes).

The present example is a second edition and complete, but also extra-illustrated with 19 very rare variant plates of images originally rejected for publication by Martyn. Copies of the Universal Conchologist exist with 160 plates but these "were apparently assembled rather than published and contain no letterpress text" (Forbes).

A highly lucrative market in shells from exotic lands had developed by the middle of the 18th century. Those collected on Cook's voyages were greatly desired and when the specimens from the Third Voyage were offered, one of their most enthusiastic buyers was Thomas Martyn. For the present work, Martyn was able to supplement his own collection with specimens from others including the Duchess of Portland, the Countess of Bute and John Hunter. The Universal Conchologist is the only extant illustrated catalogue of the greater part of the shells collected on Cook's Third Voyage. From a scientific perspective, it is therefore an invaluable conchological record, much as Banks' Florilegium stands as a monument to the botanical discoveries made on Cook's First Voyage.

The publication history of the work is complex in part due to Martyn halting production of the first edition and redrawing eighty plates. The present example includes 14 of these rejected plates, here bound adjacent to the published versions. They are printed on different paper to the published images and show differences in the way they are laid out on the page as well as variations in the coloring.

An intriguing additional five plates with no corresponding counterparts in the published work, but very faintly titled on the versos in an unknown hand, are bound at the back of the volume