Bell's British Theatre

Bell's British Theatre 1776
Illustration from Bell's British Theatre

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Bell’s British Theatre Consisting of the Most Esteemed British Plays, complete in 20 volumes.

London, John Bell and York, C. Etherington, 1776

1st edition, complete in 20 volumes. 8vo. (20x11cm). Each volume contains five plays, every play having a separate title page and engraved frontispiece, and each volume has an engraved title page as well as the printed title page, making a total of 100 plays and 120 engravings. Several of the engravings are folded as they are larger than the books and each frontispiece shows an actress, or actor, in a leading role in the play: the fantastically elaborate costumes, headdresses and hair styles have to be seen to be believed.

Throughout the books there is extensive light brown discolouration and spotting to many of the illustrations and pages: this never obscures the text or the illustrations, but is very persistent and is particularly associated with the tissue guards of the illustrations and the pages they touch. There is also a tendency for the type to show through the paper from the other side of the page. Otherwise the pages are in good condition, although a couple of leaves have blank corners torn and there are some dark brown spots, again never affecting legibility.

The full-leather bindings are probably contemporary with the books: the calf is treated on the covers to give a mottled effect (not unlike ’tree calf’) and there is an elaborate double border, in gold, around the boards. The spines were designed with elaborate gilt decoration between raised bands and two contrasting leather labels, with the title etc. in gilt, one label red and other green. No boards are detached, although some are only loosely attached, the boards of the first and last volumes being almost detached, and the bindings are worn. The boards are scuffed, with loss to the surface of the leather and many corners are bumped, again with loss to the leather. Most of the hinges are cracked, often with a little leather lost along the hinge, and several of the covers are working loose. The spines are in the ‘flat-back’ style, that is with the leather pasted to the back of the bound pages by the binder, and this has lead to some cracking of the leather on the spines. The leather on the spines is dry and very rubbed; most volumes have lost the headbands and tail bands and some leather at the top and bottom of the spines. Many of the leather labels on the spines are defective and some are missing.

In each volume is the bookplate of Lord F.A. Spencer (many rather foxed), probably the politician of that name (1779-1845). He was the second son of the Duke of Malborough and created Baron Churchill in 1815. A distant relation of Sir Winston Churchill.

A substantial set of books, which will need additional postage.


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Illustration from Bell's British Theatre