An Extraordinary Copy in a Contemporary English Binding, with Contemporary English Provenance

More, Sir Thomas (1478-1535); Erasmus, Desiderius (1466?-1536)

De optimo reip. statu deque nova insula Utopia [with:] Epigrammata… Thomae Mori [with:] Epigrammata Des. Erasmi Roterodami

Basel: Johann Froben, March 1518


Quarto: 22 x 15.5 cm. Three parts in one volume: 355 (i.e. 359), [1] p. Collation: I. a-s4, t-u6. II. x-z4, A-I4, K6. III. L-T4, V6

THIRD AND BEST EDITION, the first printed by Froben, with new revisions by More and the first edition of his "Epigrammata".

Each of the parts has its own colophon. That of the "Utopia" is dated March 1518. Bound in English contemporary black calf, blindstamped with double panel of a Tudor Rose and the Annunciation, signed A.H. on upper and lower cover [Oldham, Panels Ro. 19 and BIB.4; Foot Henry Davis Gift II no. 12] Spine skilfully restored, ties lacking, later front pastedown. Printed in Roman, Greek and 'Utopian' types. Woodcut historiated border to title of each part and to preface, the first by Ambrosius Holbein, the others by Hans Holbein, full-page woodcut of Utopia and half-page woodcut of Clement, More, Hythlodaye, and Gillies, by Ambrosius Holbein, a different woodcut printer's device at end of each part, woodcut historiated initials by A. and H. Holbein (occasional faint waterstaining). Housed in silk-lined morocco box by Riviere & Son.

"Utopia" was first published at Louvain in 1516, overseen by Pieter Gillies, its dedicatee; it was reprinted at Paris in 1517. Erasmus was then responsible for arranging publication of two editions in 1518 (March and December) by 'his' printer at Basel, Johann Froben, for which More revised his text. More's epigrams, published here for the first time, include the stinging verses on his fellow humanist, Germanius de Brie, which, after bitter exchanges between the two men, More would excise from the next edition printed in 1520. Two woodcuts were created specifically for this edition by Ambrosius Holbein, elder brother of Hans, one illustrating the island of Utopia, and the other showing the protagonists: Thomas More, John Clement, Raphael Hythloday, and Pieter Gillies.

 1. John Foxe, Archdeacon of Surrey. He was probably a nephew of Richard Foxe, Bishop of Winchester (inscription on title).
2. William Say, given him by Robert Warmyngton 'At nunc fruor Guilelmo Say possessore'. This is almost certainly Sir William Say of Essenden (d. 1529). Erasmus had visited him in 1499 with his pupil William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who subsequently married Say's daughter Elizabeth. According to R.W. Chambers, Life of More (p. 70): 'Say was a family friend of the Mores and it may have been thought that through him More met Erasmus' (both inscriptions on title). 3. 16th-century biographical note on More's life and death on rear endpaper.
4. J. Fazakerley, 1706 (cut-out signature pasted inside upper cover).
5. The Robin Collection (20th-century bookplate in the morocco box).
6. Sold Christie's, 23 June 1993, lot 170.

Annotations: At the end of More's "Epigrammata", on pages 270, 271 and 272, three Latin epigrams and two English poems by More have been added in a contemporary hand. The Latin text is in an italic hand, the English in a secretary hand of the first half of the 16th century. Most of the poems were not published until 1557 and 1568, although they must clearly have circulated in manuscript.

"Utopia" begins with More's encounter with Raphael Hythloday (whose name means ‘teller of tall tales’), a traveller who has just returned from voyages with Amerigo Vespucci. Hythloday tells More of a distant island called Utopia, where all property is held in common ownership, where six hours a day are devoted to work and the rest to recreation, where gold and silver are used not as currency but as the material for making shackles and chamber pots, and slaves (criminals and prisoners of war) are treated fairly. In its geography and topography, the island bears a striking resemblance to England.

Adams M-1756; Fairfax Murray German 304 (4th edition); Gibson More 3; Hollstein XIV, p.20; PMM 47 (1516 edition).