Spot the difference (again...)
Roman love poetry this week. These two quarto volumes bound in vellum are both examples of the 1708 Broukhusius edition of Albius Tibullus published in Amsterdam by Johann Heinrich Wettstein - one of the better separate editions (Tibullus was often lumped together with Catullus and Propertius). The collation is exactly the same: same format, same pagination, same number of plates… from a library catalogue one might never have guessed how different the two copies are. So what’s going on? The clue is in the provenance. The taller, fatter volume is from the library of the great English bibliophile Michael Wodhull (1740-1816), classical scholar and Dibdin’s ‘Orlando’, who attended every London book sale between 1764 and 1800 and bought extensively but, as De Ricci says, with great judgement. He normally recorded the date, place of acquisition and price paid on the flyleaf. In this instance Edwards’s sale, March 3d 1794; the purchase price appears to be encoded. Wodhull neatly excised much of this information in books which he consigned to auction himself in 1801 and 1803, so our example likely remained with the bulk of his library, auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1886. Wodhull’s copy is printed on vastly superior, heavier paper stock, and it retains more generous margins. Wettstein clearly found it worthwhile to create a handful of deluxe copies back in 1708, which were prized by bibliophiles of later generations. It hints at the relationship between books like this - which are too easily regarded as fairly stolid editions of the classics, of interest to scholars alone, then and now - and their early readers. It also highlights some of the risks associated with relying too heavily on digitisation - a wonderful tool, giving wider access to material than has even been possible before, but still no substitute for handling the original.