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Joe McWilliams

The rage of 1677

I had the novel experience yesterday of handling a 337-year-old book. That is, it appears to actually have been published in that year and certainly looks the part.

It is a history of the early saints of the Christian period, written by William Cave and published by Richard Chiswell “at the Rose and Crown, St. Paul’s Churchyard, 1677,” and illustrated by Michael Burghers.
The Rose and Crown? Sounds like a pub.
Thanks to the magic of modern telecommunications, finding out about the book turned out to be pretty easy. Chiswell, according to many online sources, was a well-known publisher of the late 17th Century, and yes, he did operate a shop at an address in the vicinity of St. Paul’s Church in London. This, according to an article by Michiyo Takano, was in fact “the centre of the book trade in the 17th century.” Chiswell published Shakespeare among many others, including a book by Dr. Cave.
As for Cave, he was a Church of England scholar, and the volume in question of one of the two major works he was known for. Its (very long) full name is Apostolici: or the History of the Lives, Acts, Death and Martyrdoms of those Who were Contemporary with or immediately succeeded the Apostles, as also the Most Eminent of the Primitive Fathers for the First Three Hundred Years – to which is added, A Chronology of the First Ages of the Church.

The book is coming apart and the cover is in rough shape, but the leaves are in good condition, the engravings are sharp and it's easy enough to read. It resides in a farmhouse not far from here. The owners have no idea of its history in the family, only that it belonged to a grandmother.

I've attempted to attach a photo.


Joe, I really think you should encourage your friends to get this to a reputable dealer in antiquarian books. It is impossible to tell from your description and photograph whether this is indeed the real thing, but it is certainly worth their while finding out. Even if they have no interest in selling, or if the market value proves not to be high, some advice on the proper conservation and handling of the book could be invaluable.

It looks a very appealing object, even if the subject matter has no great appeal these days. It is fascinating that it has found its way to Saskatchewan and finding out just how might be an interesting quest in itself. It must have been quite an experience for you!

I've checked, which is my usual first port of call when trying to pin down the value of any old book, and similar editions are being sold for sums in the region of GBP 500. This copy may be in less impressive condition, having the front board detached (or so it appears from your photo), but it's still clearly a nice thing. Lovely red and black lettering on the title page.
Joe McWilliams

Yes, I doubt if it's worth much. I found one online somebody is offering for $2,000 U.S. in 'excellent condition.' But I don't think the owners are particularly interested in selling it. As for me, it's simply the novelty of handling something of its vintage. I realize in London you can probably find whole libraries full of such treasures, but out here on the lonesome prairie it is something special.
As you say, Chris, it would be fun to track the history of this volume. It's unlikely to happen though; the owner doesn't seem to even know much about her own family -  not an unusual state of affairs out here in the New World.

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