Anecdotes of the Life of ... William Pitt


The binding of this edition of Pitt’s Anecdotes is decorated with a topographical view, framed in an oval with fanned corner pieces. Mercedes Cerón has traced the source to an etching with engraving by Luke Sullivan (1705-1771) of Esher Place, Surrey, the seat of Prime Minister, Henry Pelham. William Pitt (1708–88) served as Paymaster of the Forces when Pelham was Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Sullivan's engraving was first published in 1759 by John Boydell, Robert Sayer, Carington Bowles and Henry Parker, and republished in A New Display of the Beauties of England (1776).

The bookbinder has re-purposed Sullivan’s view, presenting it as a mirror-image and simplifiying the image (there are no bystanders on the lawn, and the two boats are now one, with two flags). Interestingly there are some additions, notably two long thin flag poles, the most prominent of which has a cockerel on the top (which may allude to Pitt’s crest). 

These books are part of the Henry Davis Gift: a collection of around 890 bindings from across the globe dating from the 12th to 20th century, and bequeathed to the British Library by Henry Davis in 1968. 

Full title:
Anecdotes of the Life of ... William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, and of the principal events of his time [compiled by J. Almon]; with his speeches in Parliament ... 1736 to ... 1778
J S Jordan
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British Library
Davis 174-176

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With reference to examples in the Henry Davis Gift, King’s Library and beyond, Philippa Marks explores why topographical views became decorative motifs for 18th – 19th-century English bookbindings.

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