Sunday, June 19, 2011

The complete midvvife's practice

The complete midvvife's practice enlarged in the most weighty and high concernments of the birth of man: Containing a perfect directory or rules for midwives and nurses. As also a guide for women in their conception, bearing and nursing of children: from the experience of our English Viz. Sir Theodore Mayern, Dr. Chamberlain, Mr. Nich. Culpeper and others of foreign nations. With instructions of the queen of France's midwife to her daughter ... touching the practice of the said art etc. 
Hardcover book (leather binding) printed for Obadiah Blagrave at the Bear in St. Pauls Churchyard, over against the little North-Door 1680, 336 pages with frontis and 6 black and white illustrations.

 The front cover

As incredible as this may be… I purchased this book completely by accident.  It was in a large box of books and was/is in such bad condition that I didn’t even look at it at the time of purchase, being keener on some of the other titles in the box.  I seriously thought that whatever it was and being in such obviously poor condition, it was not suitable for sale… how wrong was I.  When I write “poor condition”… I mean really bad.  Both the front and back covers have become detached and the spine has very little left of it… and there are scratches and the whole thing was being held together by an elastic band… it’s poor and at the lower end of “poor”.  In retrospect, all of this is not so surprising, as leather that hasn’t been cared for properly tends to deteriorate after 331 years… yep, that’s 331 years.  This is the oldest book that I have ever unearthed.

The title page… with the frontis and cover loose from the book.  The bottom right hand corner is a little blurry but you can just make out the date.

But there is some reasonably good news about this particular copy, despite the poor condition.  Firstly: I can’t find any other copies currently available for sale.  This of course means that anyone looking for this book will hopefully be tempted by my one and only copy.  Secondly: This copy has all its illustrations/plates intact.  With these older books, there are often bits missing and it’s these bits, such as illustrations, that are important when selling.  The condition is also important, but as I’ve indicated, in this case it’s nearly non existent, so having all the plates is a definite plus.

  One of the plates.

With this book were two other books published approximately 70 years later… their subject matter is of a religious nature and secondly they are in Dutch.  They are in similar condition, one is in slightly worse condition.  The reason I’ve mentioned this is that “Complete midvvife's practice etc” being written in English (not necessarily as we speak it today) and on Midwifery is far more sellable than old religious books written in Dutch (not necessarily as the Dutch speak it today)… at least here in Australia they are.  But of course I’m not complaining about any of these finds.

In a past lifetime, when I was a young bibliophile, I worked for a while at a large academic library.  Occasionally we would handle these sort of antiquated volumes and I remember them as often being in more than one piece.  Certain volumes were sent out for conservation and were often rebound in an appropriate manner.  I was talking to another book dealer about this wonderful book and he suggested that I should consider some conservation work as an option.  From memory, this is very expensive and time consuming… which is probably why it is so expensive.  So for now I will leave it as it is and describe it with all it’s faults and leave any possible restoration to the next owner.  The bookseller mentioned above also found an auction record of this book… 400 to 500 British Pounds.

And what of the books I was actually wanting to buy? … well they aren’t worth as much as I hoped.

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