Skip to main content
[Uniformly bound set of large-paper issues of the British embassies to China, Burma and Tibet, from the library of William Beckford]. Sir George Leonard STAUNTON, Michael SYMES, Samuel TURNER.
[Uniformly bound set of large-paper issues of the British embassies to China, Burma and Tibet, from the library of William Beckford]
[Uniformly bound set of large-paper issues of the British embassies to China, Burma and Tibet, from the library of William Beckford]
[Uniformly bound set of large-paper issues of the British embassies to China, Burma and Tibet, from the library of William Beckford]
[Uniformly bound set of large-paper issues of the British embassies to China, Burma and Tibet, from the library of William Beckford]
[Uniformly bound set of large-paper issues of the British embassies to China, Burma and Tibet, from the library of William Beckford]

[Uniformly bound set of large-paper issues of the British embassies to China, Burma and Tibet, from the library of William Beckford]

London: 1797-1800. 3 works in 5 volumes (imperial 4to and folio). Detailed collations as below.

Contemporary red straight-grained morocco gilt, wide gilt borders on the covers, the Staunton atlas with elaborate cornerpieces composed of small tools, spines gilt in compartments with double raised bands, inner dentelles gilt, blue-green endpapers in the text and pale blue watered silk endpapers in the atlas, gilt edges

Provenance: William Beckford (armorial stamps at the corners of each turn in)

The uniformly-bound Beckford set of an extraordinary extra-illustrated set of Staunton's official published account of the first British embassy to China, a rare large paper issue of the first edition of the official account of Turner's embassy to Bhutan and Tibet and a rare large paper issue of the first edition of the best eighteenth-century account of Burma.

Comprised of:

STAUNTON, Sir George Leonard (1737-1801). An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China ... Taken chiefly from the papers of His Excellency the Earl of Macartney. London: W.Bulmer & Co. for G.Nicol, 1797. 3 volumes (text: 2 vols, quarto [12 3/4 x 10 inches], atlas vol.: large folio [22 1/2 x 17 inches.)] Text: 2 engraved portrait frontispieces, of Emperor Tchien Lung in vol.I and the Earl Macartney in vol.II, 1 plate, 26 vignette illustrations after William Alexander and others. Atlas: 44 engraved views, plans, plates, charts or maps (including a large folding world map, 3 natural history subjects and 25 views). Extra-illustrated with an additional 57 engraved plates, including plates in multiple states, as well as Alexander's separately-published Views of Headlands, Islands, &c. taken during a Voyage to and along the Eastern Coast of China, in the Year 1792 & 1793 [full collation on request].

George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney (1737-1806) was dispatched to Beijing in 1792 traveling via Madeira, Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro, the Cape of Good Hope and Indonesia. He was accompanied by Staunton, and a retinue of suitably impressive size, including Staunton's 11-year-old son who was nominally the ambassador's page. On the embassy's arrival in China it emerged that the 11-year-old was the only European member of the embassy able to speak Mandarin, and thus the only one able to converse with the Emperor. The embassy, the first such to China, had two objectives: the first to register with the Emperor British displeasure at the treatment that the British merchants were receiving from the Chinese, the second to gain permission for a British minister to be resident in China. The first objective was achieved, the second was not. Macartney was twice granted an audience with the Emperor and in December 1793 he was sumptuously entertained by the Chinese viceroy in Canton, and returned to England via Macao and St. Helena, arriving in September 1794.

The present set is simply extraordinary, with a large-paper issue of the text and the atlas with added proof impressions of the plates and other extra-illustrations, bound in a superb contemporary red morocco binding and from the library of the most noted English bibliophile of the period.

Both Lowndes and Brunet note the existence of the large paper issue of the two text volumes of this important work, but this seems to have been overlooked by subsequent bibliographies. The uncut height of the regular issue is 12 inches (the present large paper issue is cut and 12 3/4 inches tall); the inner blank margins of the text leaves in the regular issue are approximately a half inch narrower than the same pages in the large paper issue (demonstrating that the text was printed from the same setting of the type but in two different forms); the regular issue is on wove paper watermarked "I. Taylor / 1796" whilst the large paper issue is on wove watermarked 1795, as here.

The existence of such sets extra-illustrated with proofs is described in a publisher's ad leaf in the rear of Sir George Thomas Staunton's Ta Tsing Leu Lee (London, 1810), which includes an advertisement for the first edition of Staunton's Account of the Embassy noting sets for sale on regular paper, on "fine paper" with early impressions of the plates, and "few copies with proof impressions of the plates". We have never encountered another set with proof impressions, and find no other set with proofs in the modern auction records.

Of the 44 plates in the atlas, fourteen (i.e. principally the charts) are present in one state, thirteen in two states, fifteen in three states and two in four states. Included are scratch proofs, proofs before letters and progress proofs pulled from the copperplates before the engraving had been finished. Of the progress proofs, some show only minor differences to the final versions (e.g. before birds or clouds had been added to the skies), but others show figures before completion. Even the plates in this set present in the final state are special, being uniformly early, dark impressions, all on thick wove paper watermarked 1794. The impressions are noticeably better than usually found. For example, on plate 6, within the view inset at the top of the sheet, the ship's rigging is clearly visible on the present impression, unlike most extant examples. That these plates are the earliest impressions is further supported by the fact that many of the proofs are on the same paper as the final versions present here, wove paper watermarked J. Whatman and dated 1794.

Most significantly, this copy of the atlas includes four very rare extra plates, present here in two states each, which were separately-issued by the expedition artist William Alexander. We have only once before encountered another set of Staunton with these extra-illustrations (though only in one state) and can only find passing references to them in the literature on Alexander (e.g. Archer, British Drawings in the India Office Library, vol. II, p. 371) which record their existence but with no information about them. OCLC records only the British Library copies of these four engravings.

[WITH:] SYMES, Michael (1761-1809). An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava . London: W. Bulmer and Co., 1800. Imperial quarto. xxiv, 504pp. Dedication leaf. 2 folding engraved maps, 25 engraved plates.

Symes's account is rich in topographical, historical and anecdotal detail. The first 288 pages provide a valuable historical account of the Ava Empire, and the final part of the work includes descriptions and illustrations of rare and curious plants. "One of the first detailed accounts of the country written in English. In just over 500 pages, it addressed the history, geography, culture, and economics of Burma" (ODNB). Published at 2l. 2s in boards, contemporary advertisements reveal that a smaller number of copies were available in large paper, printed from the same setting of type as the smaller regular issue but in larger size and on better paper stock, at 3l. 3s.

[WITH:] TURNER, Samuel (1749-1802). - Samuel DAVIS (1760-1819, illustrator). An Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama in Tibet, containing a narrative of a journey through Bootan, and part of Tibet ... To which are added, views taken on the spot, by Lieutenant Samuel Davis; and observations botanical, mineralogical, and medical, by Mr. Robert Saunders. London: printed by W. Bulmer & Co, and sold by G. & W. Nicol, 1800. Folding engraved map after Samuel Davis, 13 plates (1 aquatint by De la Motte after Stubbs, 1 double-page line engraving of script, 2 engraved views by James Basire after Turner, 1 engraved plan and 8 views by James Basire after Samuel Davis), 1 engraved illustration

Acting on Warren Hastings orders, Samuel Turner's expedition was despatched with the aim of improving "trans-Himalayan trade after the Nepal war. Turner's party, including the surgeon and botanist Dr Robert Saunders, set off from Calcutta in January 1783. Davis was to survey the route and record the topographical features of the country ... While in Bhutan during their first audience with the Deb Raja in his palace at Tassisudon, Turner explained to him that 'drawing constituted in England a branch of education; and that we made unequal progress in the art, I could boast but little skill in it, but that my friend Mr. Davis had attained a great degree of perfection' ... After four months in Bhutan waiting for permission to enter Tibet ... the three men were told that only Turner and Saunders could proceed. Turner believed that the authorities were suspicious of Davis's drawing skills ... Leaving Davis behind in Bhutan ... Turner and Saunders departed for Tibet on 8 September 1783. Their travels were to last until March the following year" (Indian Life & Landscape p.194). The Table of Plates notes that the plates were all engraved from originals in the possession of Warren Hastings - including the image of the Yak. The Yak was one of a pair sent to Hastings, by his kinsman, Turner. Only one survived the journey, and it is this animal that was painted by George Stubbs from life. In the background, Stubbs incorporates Davis's view of Punakha Dzong, the summer palace in Bhutan. Published at 2l. 2s in boards, contemporary advertisements reveal that a smaller number of copies were available in large paper, printed from the same setting of type as the smaller regular issue but in larger size and on better paper stock, at 4l. 4s.

Although the binding on this extraordinary set is not signed and no binder's ticket has survived, Beckford, whose arms appear on the inner dentelles, was known to have commissioned similar bindings by Christian Samuel Kalthober and Charles Lewis, two of the most fashionable and talented London binders of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The binding on this set is certainly of that quality. Although from Beckford's collection, this set did not appear in the auctions of either the contents of Fonthill Abbey or the Hamilton Palace library.

Staunton: Brunet V, 525; cf. Cordier Sinica 2381-2382; cf. Cox I, p.344; Hill (2004) 1628; Lowndes III, p.2502; Lust 545 & 547; cf. Catalogue of the Asiatic Library of Dr. G.E.Morrison (Tokyo: 1924) I, 696-697; cf. Stafleu & Cowan 12.835. Symes: Cordier, Indosinica 445; Howgego S200; Lowndes III, p. 2564. Turner: Cox I, 346; cf. J. Egerton George Stubbs, painter: catalogue raisonné 284; cf. P. Godrej & P. Rohatgi Scenic Splendours India through the printed image p.34; cf. Indian Life and Landscape p.194; Lennox-Boyd 140; Lowndes IV, p.2724; Lust 208; Yakushi T140.

Item #30000

Price: $125,000.00