The Sphinx

WILDE, Oscar

Only edition thus with the Alastair plates. Quarto (overall 31.8 x 23.4 cm, the pages 29.8 x 22.5 cm). One of 1,000 unnumbered copies, illustrated with twelve full-page plates and thirteen opening initials by Alastair, printed in black with turquoise and teal highlights. Publisher’s cream buckram book cloth, gilt lettering on spine, pictorial front cover stamped in gilt and teal with design by Alastair, top edges gilt, others uncut. Printed by Spottiswoode, Ballantyne & Co. Ltd. on fine handmade Aldwych laid paper. Collates 5 ll. (half-title, title in black and teal, list of illustrations, Note by Robert Ross dated April 19, 1910, fly-title), pp. 11-36, plus 2 ll. inserted front and 2 ll. back (free fly-leaves each with a lithographed illustration), and 10 ll. inserted lithographed illustrations with tissue guards with printed titles, the illustrations on thicker cream laid paper printed one side only and inserted on stubs. Spine sun-darkened, slight edgewear top, and bottom of spine, small stain top edge rear cover, slight soiling on covers, usual offsetting on endpapers, otherwise the binding very good, tight, bright and square, internally fine, the paper bright and crisp, the illustrations brilliant.

Alastair (pseudonym of Hans Henning Baron Vogt, 1889-1969) was a noted illustrator of fine books issued by Lane, Black Sun, Crès, Narcisse, and others. Influenced by the linear Decadence of Beardsley, he infused his fascination with the bizarre with the new style of surface and line evolving in movements like the Vienna Secession. “La surface et la ligne so les souls éléments have sequels ALASTAIR compose son monde. Ses atmosphères don’t étranges et néanmoins réalistes.” H. Slonimsky, quoted in Marcus Osterwalder, Dictionnaire des Illustrateurs 1800-1914, p. 40 (Paris: Hubschmidt & Bouret, 1983). The John Lane archive of Birmingham City University houses an intriguing collection of Alastair autograph material principally about his illustrations for The Sphinx (via Robert Ross) and other Lane publications.

The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies

Three volumes, complete. First edition of vols. I and II; the second edition of vol. III (but first thus, as vol. III of the History). Large Post quarto, 10-9/16 x 8-5/8 in. (26.8 x 22 cm) overall, the pages 10-3/16 x 8-1/8 in. (25.9 x 20.7 cm). A matched set retaining the contemporary calf covers framed, and edges tooled, with gilt chain roll, original Gloster pattern marbled endpapers, volumes I and II backed 1963 in calf gilt in six compartments with black title piece, volume III retaining its original spine gilt in six compartments with black title and black and red number pieces. 

The surface veneer of cover calf considerably rubbed (but underlying leather intact), the spine of vol. 3 worn with loss of gilt and starting to separate at back extremities, boards exposed at corners, gilt mostly lost on edge tooling. Printed on fine laid paper (the maps on wove), initial quirks a-b and final quires 3H-3L of vol. III slightly age-toned, offsetting of frontispiece onto the title in vol. III, folds of the map in vol. I repaired with paper reinforcement, minor tears in folds of the map in vol. II leaves d1 and d2 in vol. I (pp. xxxiii-xxxvi of contents) misbound before c3, the book blocks strong and tight with generous margins, the pages otherwise crisp, fresh and bright with negligible scattered faults. Engraved armorial bookplates of William Gilstrap and Alberto Parreño on front endpapers of each volume. Overall very good, an impressive and complete matched set. 

Edwards (“facile Princeps,” wrote Dibdin in 1825, “of writers in his department”) was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1794 on the strength of this publication the year before, which went on to become widely recognized and disseminated as the standard work in the first decades of the nineteenth century. These first two volumes are the first of four Stockdale editions, preceding those of 1794, 1801 and 1807 and ranked “exceptionally scarce” by Mitchell’s West Indian Bibliography (9th ed., online); a fifth London edition was issued in 1819; there were Dublin, Edinburg and American editions, English abridgments and Continental translations as well.


The third volume was preceded by a free-standing edition of 1797 (Sabin 21894) with the title, A Historical Survey of the French Colony in the Island of St. Domingo, a variant of which is included here as the additional title. The considerably expanded present volume, essentially a new work incorporating almost 200 pages additional, some from the author’s Jamaica of 1796 and other earlier sources, some entirely new, is the first edition thus, as vol. III of the History. The large folding map mounted in halves in the first two volumes, entitled “A New Map of the West Indies / For the History of the British Colonies / By Bryan Edwards, Esqr. / Published May 28, 1793, by J. Stockdale Piccadilly,” measures a formidable 28 x 46 inches overall. In the third volume, “A Map of the Island of St. Domingo. Published Nov. 24, 1800, by J. Stockdale, Piccadilly,” measures almost 19 x 37 inches. (Stockdale’s 1794 edition added engraved frontispieces, eight further maps, five plates and a prefatory list, sold separately; owners of the 1793 first edition volumes may thus sometimes have incorporated second edition material into their bindings of the History.)