Roger Gaskell Rare Books

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BISSET, James (1762?–1832)

A poetic survey round Birmingham ; with a brief description of the different curiosities and manufactories of the place

Birmingham: printed for the author; by Swinney and Hawkins, High-Street, Brimingham. Sold by T. Heptinstall, Holborn, London, Swinney and Hawkins, Birmingham, and all other booksellers, [1800]
8vo: [A]–E4 [F]2 G2 H–I4, 32 leaves, pp. viii [9]–40 [41–45] 46–62 [2]. Wood-engraved head and tail pieces.
28 engraved plates: map, signed 'Hancock Sculpt' (frontispiece) and 27 plates numbered A–X, 1–4 (pl. V bound facing F1r; the rest between F2 and G1).
Condition: 245 x 145, untrimmed.
Binding: Contemporary marbled boards, later cloth spine, endleaves replaced. Corners worn.
First edition, Royal Paper copy on heavy wove paper watermarked Whatman 1794 (ordinary paper copies are smaller and on lighter paper watermarked R 1797). The titlepage is undated but the address to the reader is dated 1800.
Bibliography: ESTC T143270; Goldsmiths'–Kress 17827; Johnson 96; Norton 716.

One of the earliest illustrated trade directories and a self-concious piece of fine printing. The delicate typography is matched by finely engraved plates. Bisset ‘had great facility in composing amusing and gradiloquent verses’ (DNB), here designed to attract visitors and trade to the city. The book was financed by Birmingham's manufacturers and tradesmen paying for a mention on one of the plates listing multiple businesses, or for a half or full-page display advertisement. More than 300 merchants, bankers, tradesmen and manufacturers operating in and around Birmingham are listed, including the great Soho Works of Mathew Bolton.
The half-title gives the basic price as 6s, but noting that copies with proof plates were 10s. 6d., with coloured plates 1 guinea and printed in colours 2 guineas. The copies with proof and coloured plates may in fact never have been issued (see Norton), but there are copies on different paper, this being the superior Royal Paper issue.
Literature: Norton , Jane E, A Guide to National and Provincial Directories (1984); JOHNSON, C.R., Provincial Poetry 1789–1839. British Verse Printed in the Provinces: The Romantic Background, (London: Jed Press, 1992).