Catalog Archive
Auction 182, Lot 680

Completely Fictitious Account of Formosa

"A Map of Formosa [bound in] An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island Subject to the Emperor of Japan...",

Subject: Taiwan

Period: 1704 (published)


Color: Black & White

6.6 x 7.9 inches
16.8 x 20.1 cm
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This completely fictitious and highly entertaining travel book was written by George Psalmanazar "giving an account of the religion, customs, manners, &c. of the inhabitants" of Formosa (Taiwan). Born in southern France sometime between 1679-1684, Psalmanazar began his life of deception as an Irish pilgrim in order to cheaply travel the country. However, he quickly realized that the French were generally familiar with Ireland and quickly identified him as an impostor. Psalmanazar evolved his persona to first Japanese and then finally Taiwanese, since no one in Western Europe had any knowledge of its people or culture. Over time his schemes became increasingly elaborate and he wrote the present travel narrative, which as a category was quite popular at the time. Psalmanazar had claimed that he was kidnapped back to France by Jesuits and wrote "the prevailing Reason for this my Undertaking was, because the Jesuits, I found, had impos'd so many Stories, and such gross Fallacies upon the Publick, that they might the better excuse themselves from those base Actions, which deservedly brought upon them that fierce Persecution in Japan." This well-calculated volume was especially popular in Britain where anti-Jesuit sentiment was significant in the early 18th century.

Included with the volume of text is a basic map of the region surrounding Taiwan, from the Philippines north to Japan and Korea and west to China. Detail is limited to a few place names along the coast, numerous tiny islands, and a few coastal rivers. In addition to the map are 2 folding plates and 15 single-page plates featuring natives, customs and various buildings. Of particular interest is the fictitious "Formosan Alphabet" and ominous "Idol of the Devil." Title, dedication, preface, errata note, 327 pages of text, appendix, and table of contents in the rear. Rebound in quarter brown leather with tips over marbled boards with gilt title and raised bands on spine.


Condition: B+

Map, plates and text are very good with occasional light toning and scattered foxing. Modern binding is near fine with minor shelf wear.

Estimate: $700 - $850

Sold for: $650

Closed on 4/28/2021