The Italian Manuscripts in the Library of Major J.R. Abbey


J.J.G. Alexander & A.C. de la Mare.

Italian Manuscripts collected by one of the greatest bibliophiles of his era.


J.J.G. Alexander & A.C. de la Mare, The Italian Manuscripts in the Library of Major J.R. Abbey, London: Faber & Faber, 1969. First Edition, large quarto, xliv+187 pages. Colour illustrated, undamaged dust jacket but price clipped, rose-tinted endpapers, full-page colour Frontispiece, Title printed in red and black, six colour Plates, 80 Monochrome Plates, List of Illustrations, List of Abbreviations, Introduction, List of Manuscripts Catalogued, Concordance, Catalogue, Bibliographical entries in text, Index of Manuscripts, General Index.

Condition: Fine, occasional light offsetting to a very few pages from colour Plates. Binding tight, dark grey cloth boards, front cover titled in gold, spine titled in red and gold with gold border, top edge of pages tinted, internally clean and bright. The first Catalogue of Abbey’s Italian manuscripts, with many Tuscan examples. The majority of the manuscripts are of the 15th century, but they range in date from the early 12th to the late 16th century. Original owners included the Medici of Florence, the Visconti of Milan, the Aragonese Kings of Naples, King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, and Popes Sixtus IV, Leo X and Julius II.

The English book collector Major John Roland Abbey (1894-1969) possessed one of the most remarkable collections of illuminated manuscripts and colour Plate books and fine bindings of his generation. He once owned seven books from the Library of the 16th century book collector Jean Grolier. In the 1950s Abbey sold many of his illuminated manuscripts and illustrated books to the American collector Paul Mellon, who bequeathed them to Yale University. After Abbey’s death the bulk of his collection was auctioned, from 1970 to 1975, for £993,509.

The eldest son of a brewer, Abbey served in World War I as a regimental officer with the rank of Captain in the Rifle Brigade on the Western Front, and was invalided out in 1917 after being gassed and hospitalised for five months in 1916-1917. In 1921 he married Ursula, second daughter of the 4th Earl Cairns. Abbey rejoined the Rifle Brigade in 1939, serving from 1941-1943 as a staff officer and in 1946 was awarded the honorary rank of Major. John Abbey became manager of the Kemp Town Brewery, succeeding his father as Chairman in 1943, and was High Sheriff of Sussex for one year, in 1945. Abbey merged his brewing company in 1954 with Charringtons, a large brewery chain dating from the early 1700s.

Abbey began collecting books and manuscripts in 1929, eventually acquiring complete private press collections from the Kelmscott, Ashendene and Gregynog Presses. He continued collecting until his final illness.