WILLUGHBY (FRANCIS) De historia piscium libri quatuor, 2 parts in one vol, extensively annotated, 1676 [1740]
Lot 269
De historia piscium libri quatuor, 2 parts in one vol, first edition, Oxford, Sheldonian Theatre, 1686 [but 1740]
Sold for £20,000 (US$ 26,372) inc. premium

Lot Details
WILLUGHBY (FRANCIS) De historia piscium libri quatuor, 2 parts in one vol, extensively annotated, 1676 [1740]
De historia piscium libri quatuor, 2 parts in one vol, second edition (with the additional "Index Piscium"), edited by John Ray, engraved vignette on letterpress title, additional allegorical engraved title by Paul van Somer (dated 1685, shaved at lower margin), 187 engraved plates, engraved head-pieces, EXTENSIVELY ANNOTATED IN A CONTEMPORARY HAND AND EMBELLISHED WITH NINE ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATIONS OF FISH AND HOOKS, mostly on the plates, light dampstain in lower fore-corner of text leaves, nineteenth century bookplate of J.A. Ormerod, contemporary calf, rebacked in calf gilt, upper cover near detached [Wing W2877; Nissen ZBI 4417; cf. Keynes 47], folio, Oxford, Sheldonian Theatre, 1686 [but 1740]


  • EXTENSIVELY ANNOTATED BY AN EXPERIENCED CONTEMPORARY ANGLER IN WALES, with hints on catching different types of fish (including an illustration of a feathered hook for pollack), their culinary uses and taste, and local habitats and dangers posed to fishermen.

    The early owner ("W.S." on the title) was evidently a Welsh speaker, as he supplies the Welsh as well as Cornish name for many of the fish (both on the index and the plates), and most likely a doctor resident in Anglesey, North Wales during the 1730s/40s. He provides a fascinating commentary on the fish illustrated, based upon personal observation, specimens caught off the coast of Wales, and hearsay from local fishermen and seamen ("...this is the thrasher [Hammer Head Shark], mentioned by our sailors to fight the whale in conjunction with the sword fish... I have been credibly informed that the storkes of the thrasher and the whales groans have been heard for several miles off...").

    Of the smooth dog fish (Canis Galeus), he records: "one taken at Holyhead oct. 17 1741. Four feet 4 inches long with several whole herrings in his Belly"; next to the engravings of the "Blew Shark" he notes "This is a very bad cut of the blue shark, we have them very common in St. George's Channel, and I have seen of them 15 foot long... the following [above a pen and wash drawing] is a draught of a young one I took oc. 23 1741 taken at Holyhead in ye Hering nets..."; the Monkfish is "in Wales called Maegli [and] found in plenty about Sarn y Bwch and in Barmouth Bay. They are generally of the size of a man, and delicious eating"; "... a water viper in Cos y Cefn du in Anglesey... one Owen Owen of Llanbedr was bit in his foot by it and it immediately ran into ye water. His leg & thigh turnd black in about ?24 hours, & he vomited much. I cured him with an application of [illegible] & husks pounded in molasses..."; Of the Conger eel, "the fishermen are in danger of their legs... in the Great Frost in the year 1740 they came ashore on the sea coast of Anglesey in abundence, where there was shole ground..."; "In Anglesey they had formerly a great fishery of cod, but it is now lost", criticising the quality of the "cut of ye whiting pollack" and providing his own pen and wash illustration with a lengthy description of the feathered hook ("a goose, sometimes dyed blue") best used to catch them, and a suggestion that to attract them one should "sink the carkass of a horse or any other animal in any spot of clear ground whter have good marks on the shore...". For immediate eating on catching, mackerel "are opened from one end to ye other and strewed with pepper & salt and dryed a few hourse in the sun. Then boil[e]d, and they eat more delicious than any that can be eat ashore".

    "The Historia Piscium... was a sumptuous production... it was obviously a slow process disposing of the 500 copies of the book, and some still remained unsold more than fifty years after its publication, for in 1740 the Royal Society authorised its reissue with a full annotated index compiled under the care of the Secretary, Cromwell Mortimer" (Keynes). This copy has the index with colophon dated 1740, but with the original title-page dated 1686.
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