The Ricky Jay Collection

The Ricky Jay Collection

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 524. "Remarkable Persons" | A remarkable collection of remarkable characters.

"Remarkable Persons" | A remarkable collection of remarkable characters

Auction Closed

October 28, 08:54 PM GMT


100,000 - 150,000 USD

Lot Details


"Remarkable Persons"

A two volume compilation of more than 460 prints accurately described in a nineteenth-century auction catalogue as "An extensive Collection of Portraits of Remarkable Characters, Male and Female, Beggars, Misers, Highwaymen, Cheats, Forgers, Imposters, Mountebanks, Bawds, Persons Tried for Treason, Sedition, &c." Various places, artists, and engravers, mostly seventeenth and eighteenth century

2 volumes, folio (437 x 271 mm). The prints (which include a handful of original drawings) inlaid to larger sheets, usually singly or in pairs (and very occasionally more than two per sheet), many in the first vol. with extensive manuscript notes by Esdaile on the mounting sheets, which sometimes extend to additional sheets bound in for that purpose, manuscript index at front of first vol., with engraving adapted as a title-page with manuscript title "Remarkable Characters," similar section-titles throughout, second vol. not annotated but containing portraits of similar ilk; scattered staining and tears, some prints trimmed close, a few folded to fit the album. Purple crushed morocco by Rivière & Son, covers with French fillet border, spines gilt in seven compartments, plain endpapers, edges gilt on the rough; neatly rebacked, extremities rubbed.

A remarkable collection of remarkable characters.  Persons remarkable for either their physical appearances or unusual accomplishments were a particular interest of Ricky Jay, and the Esdaile albums were one of the most prized items in his collection; the collection is particularly important for preserving popular and ephemeral images of the type that seldom survive the notoriety of their subject.

A survey of the manuscript section-titles and a sampling of their subjects, gives just a hint of the breadth and depth of the collection: 

"Murderers and Criminals" (Lawrence Shirley, Earl of Ferrers, George Weston, William Dodd, George Barrington, William Cox, Henry Rogers, John Shepherd, David Tyrie, Renwick Williams, James Bolland, James Hackman, George Gordon, Mary Edmondson, Elizabeth Brownrigg, Margaret Rudd, Elizabeth Canning, Margarte Nicholson);

"Bawds & Courtezans" (Polly Fince, Nancy Dawson, Fanny Murray, Martha Ray); "Beggars & Gypseys. &c." (Bampfylde Moore Caren, Margaret Finch, Black Dick, John Bigg, John Dunstan); "Aged Persons. &c." (Jedidiah Buxton, Donald McLeod, Isobel Walker);

"Curious Poetical Genius's. &c." (Dicky Dickinson, Phillis Wheatley); "Tall & Short Persons &c." (Henry Blacker, Mynheer Wybrand Lolkes, Ed. Scolfield); "Very hefty Persons" (Edward Bright); "Ariostists" (Rope Dancer and Posture Master);

"Persons Remarkable for one or more Circumstances of their Lives" (Paddy Kelly, Old Boots, Samuel Wood, John Broughton, Will Sprightly, George Packwood, Mother Damnable, Lazarus Coloredo, Layton Smith, Barbara Urselin, Hannah Snell, Joseph Joseph Thayendaneken, Peter Williamson); and "Foreigners."

The portrait of "Persons Remarkable for one or more Circumstances of their Lives" is the most varied, ranging from someone who lost an arm to a windmill, to the person famous for making the best razor strops in London, to someone with a vestigial twin.

Esdaile devoted the final five years of his life almost exclusively to the perusal of his print collection, and judging by his detailed and insightful commentary, chiefly biographical, these albums received more than a fair of his attention. One of the bibliographical subjects in the albums is J. Lackington, described on his portrait, "Who a few years since, began Business with five Pounds; now sells one Hundred Thousand Volumes Annually." Esdaile has written "Mr. Lackington the Cheapest Bookseller in the World who formerly kept a very small shop … I have been informed from good Authority that he has taken for weeks from £250 to £300 a day."


Exemplars, pp. 92, 94, 95, 98, 99


William Esdaile (Christie's, 19 March 1838) — R. E. Howard, bequeathed to — Charlton Library (bookplate and inscription) — J. Leveson Douglas Stewart, Glenogil (armorial bookplate) — Daniel B. Fearing (bookplate)