The Bibliophile

A Library’s Treasures

The criteria by which a library “treasure” or “rarity” may be defined are variable. Of the several applicable definitions, the most common determines the degree of rarity of a book by taking into account demand and supply issues, and other specific content and edition features that make it unique and/or unusual. Therefore, for numerous reasons, a book may become rare and valuable despite having been perfectly ordinary at the time it was published.

The collection of books gathered by Calouste Gulbenkian comprises a considerable number of works that may be classified as “rarities” or “treasures”, as they possess specific and peculiar features. There are many different examples. Some of these books were dedicated to Calouste Gulbenkian by a vast array of personalities belonging to political, literary, artistic and business milieus: Saint-John Perse, the pseudonym of poet Alexis Léger; Maurice Sandoz, writer, composer and art collector, and André Breuil, pre-historic art specialist, just to name a few.

The “rare” set of books, also comprises works that had limited editions, like the magnificent Le livre d’heures de Louis Legrand (1898), copy number 124 out of an edition of 160, or The holy carpet of the Mosque at Ardebil, which contains five watercolours prints and two photolithographs, and was copy number 2 out of an edition limited to only 50 impressions. In addition, some copies were purposely printed for Calouste Gulbenkian. Les grands châteaux en France (1907), for example, had an edition of 600 copies, of which number 2 was especially printed for the Collector. Included in the “rare” or “precious” set of books are also old items dating back to different centuries. Amongst these, it is worth mentioning Les quatres premiers livres des navigations et peregrinations orientales, published in Lyon, in 1568; The travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and the East Indies, published in London, in 1686; and Elements d’orfévrerie, published in Paris, in 1748.

Also belonging to this section is a significant number of books that have unique bindings, ex libris and/or coat of arms of their previous owners. Purchased from other personal libraries by Calouste Gulbenkian, these books include: Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bósphore (1807?), which belonged to the Library of the Duchess of Berry; Symbolica Dianae Ephesiae statua a Caludio Menetreio Ceimeliothecae Barberinae praefecto exposita (1688), which shows the ex libris of the Duke of Bedford; and Hints on ornamental gardening, acquired at Thomas Hope’s library auction sale, in 1917, and showing Hope’s coat of arms in the front cover.

This section on library “treasures” would not be complete if one would not include all the works that contain Calouste Gulbenkian’s handwritten notes and those that show visible traces of having been extensively handled or attentively read by the Collector. Their importance lies in the way they provide valuable clues about the Collector’s research and study methods, as well as his interests and preferences. These library “treasures” are to be found in the all the thematic sections that make up the whole library, thus evidencing Calouste Gulbenkian’s eclecticism, his several interests, and most importantly, his commitment and need to pursue knowledge.

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Collection highlights

Les quatre premiers livres des navigations et peregrinations orientales, de N. Nicolay : avec les figures au naturel tant d'hommes que de femmes selon la diversité des nations , & de leur port, maintien, & habitz. - Lyon : Guillaume Roville, 1568.

Relation d'un voyage du Levant fait par ordre du roi contenant l'Histoire Ancienne & Moderne de plusieurs isles de l'Archipel de Constantinople, des Côtes de la Mer Noire, de l'Armenie, de la Georgie, des Frontieres de Perse & de l'Asie Mineure enrichie de description & figures d'un grand nombre de plantes rares, de divers animaux, et de plusieurs observations touchant l'histoire naturelle par Pitton de Tournefort. - Paris : Imprimerie Royale, 1717.

Symbolica Dianae Ephesiae statua a Claudio Menetreio ceimeliothecae Barberinae praefecto exposita. Cui accessere Lucae Holstenii Epistola ad Franciscum cardinalem Barberinum de fulcris, seu verubus Dianae Ephesiae simulacro appositis, Io. Petri Bellori. Notae in numismata tum Ephesia, tum aliarum urbium apibus insignita. - Romae : apud Io. Iacobum de Rubeis ad Templum S. Mariae de Pace, suis sumptibus, & cura, 1688.

Le temple de Gnide / [Montesquieu] ; d'aprés des dessins de Eifen. - Paris : Mire Graveur, 1772.

Le temple de Gnide / par Montesquieu ; [il. de Charles Eisen... et al.]. - Paris : Didot Jeune, 1794.

La tentation de St. Antoine : orné de figures et de musique / [par Michel-Jean Sedaine]. - Londres : [s.n.], 1784.

La theorie et la pratique du jardinage ou l'on traite a fond des beaux jardins appellés communément les jardins de plaisance et de properté, comme sont les parterres, les bosques, les boulingrins, &c... par le Sieur Alexandre Le Blonde. - Paris : Chez Jean Mariette, 1722.

The travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and the East Indies, the first volume, containing the authot's voyage from Paris to Ispahan; The coronation of this present king of Persia, Solyman the third / John Chardin. - London : Printed for Moses Pitt, 1686.

Views in Egypt from the original drawnings in the possesion of Sir Robert Ainslie, taken during his embassy to Constatinople / by Luigi Mayer ; engraved by and under the direction of Thomas Milton, with historical observations, and incidental illustrations of the manners and customs of the natives of that country. - London : R. Bowyer, 1801.

Voyage autour de sa chambre / par Octave Uzanne ; ill. de Henri Caruchet ; gravées par Frédérique Massé. - Paris : Henri Floury, 1896.

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