Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Fake Coryate Pamphlet from a Fishing Library

This piscatorial bookplate appears in the Center's eighteenth-century type facsimile edition of Thomas Coryate's Traveller for the English Wits (originally published in 1616 as STC 5811 and 5812; approx. date of facsimile is 1730 according to the BL). Although it is a pity our copy is an eighteenth-century fake, its marks of ownership allow for deep and rewarding provenance research.

The bookplate belonged to Henry Alden Sherwin (1842-1916), co-founder of the Sherwin-Williams Paint company and owner of a "Bibliotheca Piscatoria," or a fishing library. A printed label affixed to the verso of the front free endpaper outlines the book's provenance before Sherwin obtained it: "From the Waltonian
collection of Rev. George W. Bethune, D.D., (the American editor of Walton’s 
Complete angler). Bought for me at the sale by Sotheby, Willkinson & Hodge, London, July 8 and 9, 1897. H.A.S."

Bethune (1805-1862) was an avid fisherman, and (as the printed label points out), the American editor of Isaac Walton’s The Compleat Angler (1st ed. 1847). Traveller for the English Wits belonged to Bethune's “Waltonian Collection," which centered on fishing and materials related to Isaac Walton. The connection between Thomas Coryate and Walton is at best tangential (Viator mentions Coryate underwrote the publication of his Crudities in Compleat Angler, p. 287), and it is possible that none of the book's owners suspected it to be a facsimile. After Bethune’s death in 1862, a wealthy iron furnace manufacturer from Cornwall, Lebanon County, PA named Robert W. Coleman purchased the entire Waltonian collection. 

When Coleman died in 1866 his library was cataloged and its contents were published (Joseph Sabin, A Bibliographical Catalogue of the Waltonian Library belonging to the estate of Robert W. Coleman, deceased. New York: Bradstreet Press, 1866). The collection, described as containing "books on angling of the late R.W. Coleman," went up for auction in July 1897 through Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge (Bulletin of New York Public Library XIII [Jan. to Dec. 1909]: 259), the same auction Sherwin mentions in his printed label. Sherwin apparently added the Coryate book to his own piscatorial library.

Upon Sherwin's death in 1916, the library passed to his daughter Belle (sometime president of the League of Women Voters), and apparently remained intact until its dispersion and sale in 1946 (Sherwin, Henry Alden, Bibliotheca Piscatoria; the Library of the Late Henry Alden Sherwin, Cleveland, Ohio, Sold By Order of Miss Belle Sherwin and Mrs. O. W. Prescott, Executrixes of His State. New York: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., 1946). There is no information about the book's whereabouts between its sale and eventual donation to the Center in 2002 (gift of Anne Lake Prescott).

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