Provenance of William Byrd’s Copy of Britannia Illustrata: Byrd’s London Bookseller Identified
24 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2011 Last revised: 11 Oct 2011
Date Written: August 29, 2011
William Byrd II (1674-1744), one of colonial America’s greatest bibliophiles, assembled a remarkable 3,500-volume library at his Westover plantation in Virginia that was widely dispersed after the American Revolution. Despite the size and scattering of Byrd’s library, it’s a rare and notable event when any books he previously owned turn up at sale or auction. Such an event occurred in November 2010, when a Virginia auctioneer sold Byrd’s folio copy of Britannia Illustrata: or, Views in Prospective of the Seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain. The Library of Virginia was the successful bidder and now holds the book in its Special Collections department. This paper will briefly discuss Byrd’s book buying in London, identifying once and for all his bookseller, the mysterious “Mr. Smith” mentioned in his diary, and will demonstrate that Smith had a significant and hitherto unknown influence on Byrd’s library. Finally, it will examine the historical provenance of Byrd’s copy of Britannia Illustrata.
Keywords: William Byrd II, Joseph Smith, 18th-Century London Booksellers, Virginia Gentry, Colonial American Bibliophiles
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