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.)