STEREOGRAPHY, by HAMILTON, John.

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STEREOGRAPHY, or, a compleat body of perspective in all its branches. In all its branches. Teaching to describe, by mathematical rules, the appearances of lines, plain figures, and solid bodies, rectilinear, curvilinear, and mixed, in all manner of positions. Together with their projections or shadows, and their reflections by polished planes. The whole performed by uniform, easy, and general methods, for the most part entirely new. In seven books. In two volumes Vol I. [Vol II.] London: Printed for the author, by W. Bowyer... and sold by S. Austen...

1738. Two volumes, folio 430 x 270mm, text and plates; I. pp. [18], 400, [38] (last page blank), title-page printed in red and black, with engraved vignette by Mynde at head of dedication, and woodcut initials and tailpieces; II. pp. [ii] title-page printed in red and black, and 130 full page engraved plates by James Mynde printed on full sheets and bound as bifolia so that each plate preceded by a blank leaf; text volume title-page somewhat browned and soiled, the second leaf of the table of contents Aa2 crumpled and torn at head with loss of a few words, text somewhat browned throughout being on different paper stock to plate volume, with some dampstaining to inner and outer margins throughout, and with some dampstaining to plates, extending over the engraved surface in a few places; uncut, in contemporary bright blue pastepaper wrappers, lined with printer’s waste from Soyecourt, Plaidoyer pour le marquis de Soyecourt (Paris, 1788) and and unidentified Chinese grammar in French with Chinese characters, spines considerably frayed and worn, with back of plate volume broken, with some creasing and light soiling to covers; preserved in a blue cloth slipcase; despite the faults, a good unsophisticated copy. First edition of this important treatise on perspective, inspired by Brook Taylor’s Linear perspective (1715) but taking the subject much further in its mathematical analysis. Though not a professional mathematician, Hamilton advanced the mathematical basis of perspective which had been played down by Taylor in addressing his short treatise to artists rather than mathematicians. ‘Hamilton combined his presentation of perspective with a study of projections of conic sections and harmonic division. By including these objects he produced a work that more than any other pre-1800 book on perspective belongs to the prehistory of projective geometry.’ (Andersen p. 542). ‘Hamilton aimed at much more than Taylor, namely at a complete study of projections following - as he himself claimed - the line which Philippe de la Hire laid down in his work on conic sections. Hamilton spent 400 pages on his project and took up many interesting themes as projections of conic sections and of sets of harmonic points. He also investigated what could be called the curve of foreshortening... Hamilton addressed his book to readers with some mathematical knowledge, and for them he wrote a book which is remarkable because it unifies some of the continental ideas concerning synthetic geometry with Taylor’s approach of perspective’ (Anderson, Brook Taylor’s work on Linear Perpsective, p. 54). It is only in the last section that Hamilton addresses topics in practical perspective. Hamilton influenced Kirby and Malton and some of his ideas can be found in Lambert’s work, though Andersen does not think that Lambert was familiar with Hamilton’s work (Andersen p. 547).
Little is known of Hamilton’s life. He was a fellow of the Royal Society and may have begun a career in the law, but in his dedication he thanks Joseph Jekyll for placing him ‘in a more easy Station in Life’. This not only allowed him to finish his book, but also to publish it on a lavish scale, employing the best printer and the best engraver of the time. The engraver, James Mynde (1702–1771) had quite recently made a name for himself engraving most of the celestial charts for Flamsteed’s Atlas coelestis (1729). The plates in the present work are however largely diagrammatic and hardly required Mynde’s skill. The extravagance of the printing is also shown by the fact that each plate is printed on the right hand side of a full sheet of paper, so that as bound in this copy in a separate volume, a blank leaf occurs between each plate. They were intended to be bound as throwouts interspersed in the text when the book is bound in two volumes, breaking after p. 208.
Hamilton issued 750 copies of a prospectus for the book on 9 August 1738, but the list of subscribers shows that he managed to garner only 79 names. He nonetheless went ahead with a grossly ambitious print-run of 750 copies. In 1749, two years after Hamilton’s death, the book was re-issued with a new titlepage.
This copy of the original 1738 issue with wrappers lined with printer’s waste from a French publication of 1788 suggests that it comes from stock shipped to France before it was re-issued in London. Out of the print run of 750 copies, 22 are now recorded in ESTC, a low survival rate for a folio; it is possible that a large part of the edition was pulped.

Bibliography: ESTC T102273; Boyer Ledgers 2586; Kirsti Andersen, The geometry of an art: the history of the mathematical theory of perspective from Alberti to Monge (New York, 2007), 541–547; copies located at Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Columbia, Honnold, Johns Hopkins, LC, Chicago, Michigan, Texas, Yale Centre for British Art, Princeton, the British Library, Oxford, Cambridge, the V & A, London, St Andrews and the BnF.

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