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Revolution and the Antiquarian Book
Reshaping the Past, 1780–1815


  • Date Published: January 2011
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107000513

£ 67.00

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About the Authors
  • At the end of the eighteenth century, noblemen and revolutionaries spent extravagant sums of money or precious military resources competing to acquire old books, which until then had often been regarded as worthless. These books, called incunabula, achieved cultural and political importance as luxury commodities and as tools for mastering a controversial past. Men of different classes met in a new, shared marketplace, creating a competition for social authority, as books were no longer seen merely as sources of textual information but as a way of controlling the past in the service of contemporary concerns. The old books themselves were often changed to meet new expectations of what important historic objects should be. Focusing on Paris and London, but taking a resolutely pan-European view, this book examines the emergence of this commodity and of a new historical discipline created by traders and craftsmen.

    • Proposes an interpretation of the function of historic book collections
    • Widens the appeal of book history to readers from other disciplines by emphasising unexplored connections
    • Draws on extensive economic data, on unpublished archival material, and on sources hitherto under-explored in this discipline, including newspaper reports, contemporary book reviews and travel books
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '[This] book provokes thought: why do we value incunabula? And one is left wanting more: an extension of the collecting period covered, and an extension into the sixteenth century of the books covered (did collectors treat their post-incunabula as they did their incunabula?). Whoever undertakes these labours will have both a good basis for comparison and a demanding benchmark against which to work.' Karen Attar, Rare Books Newsletter

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2011
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107000513
    • length: 330 pages
    • dimensions: 249 x 180 x 23 mm
    • weight: 0.73kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Enlightenment ideas and revolutionary practice: incunabula and freedom
    2. Aristocratic aspirations and the war-time market: competing for the past and the future
    3. An object-based discipline emerges: old books, new luxury
    4. Competing for authority. 'The insolence of English wealth'
    5. Commemorating and obliterating the past: 'old books, very displeasing to the eye'
    6. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Kristian Jensen, British Library, London
    Kristian Jensen is currently Head of British Collections at the British Library. He is also the author of Incunabula and their Readers: Printing, Selling and Using Books in the Fifteenth Century (2003). He was elected Lyell Reader at the University of Oxford for 2008, and this book is based on his Lyell Lectures.

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