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Investigating the Book

SPECIMENS of

            ILLUMINATED

                 MANUSCRIPTS

       Henry Noel Humphreys, born in Birmingham, England on January 4th, 1810, was an artist, naturalist, and numismatist - meaning he was an avid collector of coins and money - who eventually moved to Italy after his education at King Edward’s School in Birmingham. There he learned the art of illustration and, after returning to England in 1840, became a successful book illustrator, specializing in natural history. His most popular books were naturalist volumes that included his detailed illustrations. In later years he published books which more often focused on coins, guidebooks for illustrators, and illuminations, all noted for their detail, including Specimens of Illuminated Manuscripts. Humphreys died in London on June 10th, 1879, twenty-six years after Specimens was published.

THE START

THE BOOK

       Humphreys often worked with printer Owen Jones, who used chromolithography to bring Humphreys’ illustrations to colorful life, particularly his copied illuminations. These illuminations are 

examples of both his artistic ability and the chromolithographic process. Each illumination is faced with felt on the opposite page, ensuring that the ink and paper were kept in the best of conditions, which is an expensive addition, especially with as many inks and qualities of paper that were available at the time. This book probably would have sold for quite a sum when it first circulated, and that can be best determined by the fact of this book’s ownership and its first edition status.

       The bookplate on the first endpage points us to the library of John Wyndham Bruce, whose crest of an armoured arm holds a staff underneath a banner reading Fuimus or “We have been” in Latin, the Bruce family motto. It appears that this book once belonged to John, who was the only son of Reverend Horace Lewis Bruce who died in 1848, a year after John was born. The family resided in Roehampton Priory in Surrey, England,  just outside of London city limits at the time, though now Roehampton has become another section of London and part of its postcode. Since John would have been about six at the time of this book’s publication, it is probable that it was given as a gift and kept to help build his library as he got older. He was educated at Eton, common for young men from aristocratic families, and from there was admitted to Merton College. Not much else is known of him, that I can find so far, apart from the manuals of aristocracy printed in the mid 1800s that give us the above information.  This book collection sample, however, tells us the kinds of gifts given at this time and possibly John Wyndham’s own taste in books, cultivated by this one given at a young age.

       There is a cut-out advertisement for another of Humphreys’ books, The Art of Illumination, that was a guidebook for those interested in illumination illustration. 

That it is here on the front cover means that though this book was printed in 1853, Humphreys was popular enough to have his older books advertised, the guidebook being printed in 1849. Either this or someone kept or found a paper from that year and figured, since the author was the same, to add it to the book made sense in some way.

       It is remarkable that the book has survived in its original binding with all of its illustrations, since often colorized books or prints like these are torn out to be framed or posted on walls. Add that to the fact that it once belonged to nobility and you’ve got quite a seller on your hands. I don’t remember how I acquired this book, and with no modern price noted in the pages, I can’t ascertain how much someone had thought to sell it for.

THE MARKET

       Interestingly, I cannot find a copy of this book that isn’t a reprint or facsimile on the market. There are scans of the book from university libraries but no one seems either interested in the book or willing to part with it. That being said, its absence on the market could be an advantage, since it would be singularly out there, though there is no other books to compare it to. Its generally great condition, the fact that it was once owned by landed gentry during the period in which it was published, its first edition status, and its rarity other than in libraries and institutions would put it up to about $250-$500, depending on how much else there can be learned about it’s ownership. First editions in amazing condition with some kind of provenance are not something to take lightly, but neither is the apparent rarity on the market, which may actually create a vacuum where the book is worthless to most. To learn more about how I came to this conclusion and rarity’s illusions, click here and work valuing a book yourself!

All works used are listed in the bibliography under this biography's title heading.

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