Theodore de Bry's Grands Voyages Part I Inventory

The Current Inventory
of Part I of Theodore de Bry’s India Occidentalis
by Luke Vavra
Production Records. Ideally, the current inventory of Part I and its disbound engraved plates could easily be taken from Google or another search engine. But that is wishful thinking. Perhaps a record of the production quantities of Part I was once available, but given 400 years and several devastating wars in Central Europe, it is not likely to be found. Van Groesen agrees: “No internal records of the de Bry firm survive” (p. 15, Taschen). Why are production quantities useful? They set an upper limit to the estimates of today’s inventories. Are we looking for a current inventory of thousands or hundreds or dozens of each language and each edition comprising at least eleven unique volumes for Part I (Virginia) alone?

Not having actual production records, I made a crude production analysis. It was based on three factors: (1) engraved plate life averaging 2000 copies (Groesen, Thesis, p. 103), (2) no revision or repair of plates during the production of Part I, and (3) the fact that there were a total of eleven separate production jobs using the same engravings: three editions of Latin and three additional issues, three editions of German and one edition each of English and French. Obviously, the Latin was the most popular and the German was second. The English and French were not well received. Given the preceding, I arbitrarily divided the 2000 copies into 1200 Latin, 600 German, 100 English and 100 French. The Latin was printed six times; assume 400, 300, 200, 100, 100, and 100 volumes. This means that we are looking at production of hundreds, not thousands, of each language and each edition. Even if one were to assume that plate repair or replacement did take place during production of Part I, that would consequently add an average of 2000 copies to the plate life. If so, those figures would be doubled, which would still only account for hundreds, not thousands of each language and edition. We do know that the Adam and Eve plate was partially re-engraved for the third edition (see Chapter 1); Plates IX, X and XXI (Kiwasa) were partially re-engraved for the second edition (see Chapter 2); and the five Pict Plates were re-engraved for the third edition (see Chapter 3).

Reported Inventories. Regardless of how many volumes were published, the question remains as to how many examples have survived over the last four centuries. In the Prologue to Chapter 1, I stated: “At the end I finish with an insurmountable task – the current inventory of Part I and its plates in the hands of institutions, private individuals and dealers.” After preparing drafts of Chapters 1, 2 and 3, I began Chapter 4 with the idea of developing an inventory (or census) and a price range for each language and each edition for all parts of the Grands Voyages. After many hours of research, I realized it really was an insurmountable task. Although some researchers, including Elihu Church, John Faupel, and Michiel Van Groesen, have offered lists of libraries and institutions that hold various volumes of Grands Voyages, their listings are not exhaustive.

There are at least five factors to consider when developing the census and the expected price range:
  1. Published in four languages (Latin, German, English and French).
  2. Fourteen Parts in the German edition of Grands Voyages, thirteen in the Latin and one each in English and French.
  3. Up to three editions for German and Latin parts, plus subsequent re-issues of some editions.
  4. Original color, recent color or uncolored.
  5. Condition (pages from another edition, missing or misplaced pages, damp staining, margin tears, extraneous folds, etc.). Condition is high on the list of cost factors. A shrewd buyer would look for such problems, but should not expect to find a 400-year-old volume unscathed.

In calculating the inventory, it is more important to know how many complete volumes exist than defective volumes. Unfortunately this is even more difficult to ascertain due to insufficient information on the condition of examples both in institutions and the collectibles market. However, based on descriptions of volumes that can be found, it seems that incomplete volumes are more prevalent. As examples, I have two volumes of the German Part I, both first editions. One is missing the title page, the dedication and Hariot’s 33-page text, and is in poor condition. The other is missing only the map of Virginia and has one Pict illustration out of place. This latter volume is bound after Part IV which is also missing its map, and the first few leaves need repair. That situation is not unique. I have observed that several volumes in U.S. libraries (including The Library of Congress) are also missing their maps; and I have seen dealer offerings lacking the maps. For every Grands or Petit Voyages map in the hands of collectors, dealers, libraries or other institutions, there is either a book devoid of its maps or a book also stripped of its plates and title page, and the text material likely discarded. This further reduces the number of complete volumes in the total inventory. Individually, the maps sell for more than any other single piece, but an entire Part I volume (with its map) typically sells for five to seven times the price of the map.

Because information on de Bry’s Grands Voyages volumes is difficult to find and fragmented, creating an actual inventory would likely take months if not years, and is therefore outside the scope of this chapter. However one can glean directional information on how many exist by searching on WorldCat, identifying current dealer offerings, and reviewing the auction market. WorldCat lists only 14 examples of the French edition of Part I in libraries and institutions around the world (with no information available on the completeness of each example) and several dozens of examples of the German, Latin and English language editions. A search of known rare book and map dealers revealed around 10 individual volumes of various Parts of Grands Voyages recently available for sale, only 4 of which were Part I (Virginia). Similarly, only about a dozen complete examples of Part I have been offered at auction in the last 20 years, half of which were Latin editions.

Current Market Values. Time and wars have taken their toll; now, 400 years later, the market finds all volumes of de Bry’s Grands Voyages scarce. Van Groesen sums up the problem with: “Already in the 1640s, when revised editions and abridgements were still coming off the presses in Frankfurt, early volumes had become difficult to obtain, and the interest of collectors has never waned” (Taschen. p. 7). Some American rare book or rare map dealers have the occasional volume and a few disbound plates or maps for sale. Part I (Virginia) volumes and loose plates are offered less frequently than are the other parts. German Part I has not appeared on the American market for several years. Not surprising, a few exceptions exist in the high end market.

What I learned during about twenty years of following the Grands Voyages market is that Latin copies are by far the most prevalent and Part I (Virginia) is the most expensive, now selling for about $95,000 for a complete uncolored copy with a few minor faults. [In 2006 I sold an uncolored Part I Latin first edition, complete, minor faults, heavily discounted to a North Carolina university for $50,000.] Part II (Florida) sells for about $60,000 to $75,000 for a complete uncolored copy with a few minor faults. [Parts I and II pertain only to the United States]. All other parts sell for considerably less. Part IV has a spectacular map of the Caribbean Islands and peripheral portions of the United States, Central America and South America. The southern coast of Florida has the le Moyne configuration of Part II. I lack sufficient data points to suggest a price range for Parts III and later volumes. Although I found no prices for German Grands Voyages on the internet, I had earlier observed that German volumes are the most sought after and most expensive, probably because of the strong German market.

Included in the Bibliography are the only English edition of Part I (Church 204), the only French edition (Church 203), the German first edition (Church 176) and the Latin first edition (Church 140). These are included for the reader’s convenience in selecting literature for further study and for determining present-day prices.

Bibliography

Church, Elihu Dwight. A Catalogue of Books Relating to the discovery of North and South America, Forming a Part of Library of E. D. Church. Compiled and annotated George Watson Cole. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1907. [Essential for a de Bry cataloguer.]

De Bry, Theodore. A Briefe and true Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. Frankfurt am Main: Johann Wechel, 1590. [The English version of Part I of the Grands Voyages.]

De Bry, Theodore. Wunderbarliche, doch warhafftige Erklärung, von der Gelegenheit vnd Sitten der Wilden in Virginia. Frankfurt am Main: Johann Wechel, 1590. [My two copies of the first German edition of Part I.]

De Bry, Theodore. Admiranda Narratio Fida Tamen, de Commodis et Incolarum Ritibus Virginia. Frankfurt am Main: Johann Wechel, 1590. [The first Latin edition of Part I of the Grands Voyages.]

De Bry, Theodore. Merveilleux et estrange Rapport, Toutesfois Fidele, des Commoditez qvi se Trovvent en Virginia. Frankfurt am Main: Johann Wechel, 1590. [The French version of Part I of the Grands Voyages.]

Faupel, W. John. A brief and true Report of the new found Land of Virginia: a Study of the De Bry Engravings. Antique Atlas Publications: West Sussex, 1989. [Examines 21 Part I volumes; 87 pages.]

Van Groesen, Michiel. (2007). The De Bry collection of voyages (1590-1634): editorial strategy and the representations of the overseas world. Amsterdam: in eigen beheer [self-management]. [Groesen’s 2007 PhD thesis, 272 pages plus approximately 100 pages of supporting material. The best reference I found about the de Bry firm.]

Van Groesen, Michiel (Ed.) and Larry E. Wise. Theodore de Bry America: The Complete Plates 1590-1602. Köln: Taschen, 2019. [Reprints of all 218 Latin plates from the first nine volumes of the Grands Voyages.]