Above and below are photos of a set of four volumes of Eliza Haywood’s The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, 5th ed. (London: H. Gardner, 1772)—Ab.67.8 in my Bibliography of Eliza Haywood (2004), but now Ab.67.8a for reasons I explain at the end of this post.
What makes this set remarkable is not its rarity, though I could only locate three sets in 2004, but both the provenance and the fact that I bought volume 4 in 2005 (from a US dealer) and volumes 1–3 last month (from a UK dealer who has had his incomplete set in his back room since the mid-1980s). The UK dealer bought his three volumes while he was in the States, but it seems unlikely that we bought our volumes from the same dealer, twenty years apart. Rather, I suspect the original vendor sold the volumes, at different times, to different dealers. Whether or not I am right, this “broken” set, which I have just re-united, had been broken for at least thirty years.
The reason that I don’t think that all four volumes were sold by the same vendor is that  no dealer worth their salt would sell an incomplete set unless that were 100% sure that the set was really incomplete—since incomplete sets are worth less than complete ones— and  the volume I bought in 2005 has been “improved” in a way that the other three volumes have not. Notice (above) that a pink-red tint has been applied to the leather binding of volume 4 and that the upper edge (below, fourth volume from the left) has been sanded in an attempt to brighten the dust-darkened page edges, so that it matches the un-darkened lower edge (below, right).
(That volumes 1–3 were not darkened after the set was broken is evident from the uneven effect that the sanding has on gatherings in volume 4 which are sewn in lower than the others. Beyond the reach of the sandpaper, these low-set gatherings remain dark—just as dark as the volumes that were not sanded. As well as removing dust, this sort of sanding damages the paper in distinctive ways, softening the edges, giving the paper a rounded and blurred look which is hard to describe.)
Re  above, there will always be dealers who disregard their own best interests, who sell odd volumes so vacuous ninnies can advertise their ignorance by decorating their homes with odd volumes, but such dealers are rare. And re  it is possible that the hack-dealer who slapped on some leather stain and sanded the edges of volume 4 bought this volume from a dealer who had bought a complete set but sold it off in odd-volumes, but this also seems unlikely.
I think that it is more likely that the vendor sold off the volumes at different times, to different dealers. My reason for thinking this brings me to the second remarkable thing about this set: their provenance: I think it is possible to trace the history of these volumes from eighteenth-century to today.
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This set is half bound in early twentieth century brown roan morocco. All volumes contain the book label of “Richard Ashhurst” which has been removed from the original endpapers and reattached to new endpapers.
Richard Ashhurst appears to be Richard Lewis Ashhurst (1784–1809) who, ca. 1809, married Elizabeth Beck Crotto (1777–1857)—a widower; Richard and Elizabeth were the parents of Catherine Helen Ashhurst (1814–1910); mother of Richard Ashhurst Bowie (1837–87), father of Richard Henry Bayard Bowie (b. 1868), who sold the 11,887 volumes of his father’s “most interesting and very remarkable” library to Harvard in 1908 for USD10,000, stipulating “that any books containing the name or bookplate of Richard Ashhurst … be removed as belonging to Bowie's grandmother.”
All of the books belonging to Bowie's grandmother were removed (set aside, or preserved) from among those going to Harvard and kept by Mr. R. H. Bayard Bowie of 171 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. It is unclear what happened after 1908, but it seems likely that Mr Bowie spent some of this ten thousand dollars on having this set rebound. The family portraits—including portraits of Richard Ashhurst, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Catherine—and the “Richard Ashhurst” library were passed onto his son Richard Henry Bayard Bowie Jr. (d.1961) and then to Williams Cadwalader Bowie, who died, childless, in 1991 (his wife died in 1996).
I suspect Williams Cadwalader Bowie was the one who sold the “Richard Ashhurst” library, though it is possible that the volumes had passed to other family members and were sold off before the mid-1980s. Williams Bowie dropped out of University to join the Marines, unlike his many university-educated, gentlemanly, ancestors, and, also unlike his every ancestor back to Richard Ashhurst, he did not stay in Philadelphia, so he seems like a good candidate for disposing of the family heirlooms.
(Two of the important family portraits by Thomas Sully, mentioned above, were given away after the death of Williams’ father in 1961, including one of Elizabeth Crotto (1833) [below]; reproduced in Charles H. Hart, “Portrait of Mrs. Richard Ashhurst, painted by Thomas Sully,” Art in America, vol. 5 (April 1917): 140–43 [available here and here]; and Lewis Richard Ashhurst (1833). See also “The Misses Ashhurst” reproduced in The Life And Works Of Thomas Sully, 1783–1872 (Philadelphia, 1921), 124 [here] and Mrs. Thomas Ashurst.)
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It is possible that Walsh has confused father and son and that he is referring to Richard Ashhurst Bowie’s maternal grandfather, so that, when he says “books containing the name or bookplate of Richard Ashhurst” belonged “to Bowie's grandmother” he means that books containing the name or bookplate of Richard Ashhurst belonged to Richard Ashhurst’s wife: the book-collector’s grandmother, Elizabeth Crotto (above).
But it is also possible Walsh is simply inconsistent: mistaking Richard Ashhurst as “maternal grandfather” to the man selling off the library, but correct in identifying “books containing the name or bookplate of Richard Ashhurst” as belonged “to Bowie's grandmother”: the book-seller’s grandmother, Catherine Helen Ashhurst (below, at right; daughter of Elizabeth).
It is unclear why, if Elizabeth Beck Crotto—daughter of Henry Crotto and Catherine Van Flick, who married (first) Captain Joseph Hughes on 17 June 1794 (ætat 17) and (second) Richard Ashhurst ca. 1804 (ætat 27)—did own this set, it would contain the name plate of her husband. But if the books belonged to her daughter—Catherine Helen Ashhurst (1814–1910), who married Thomas Latimer Bowie—the presence of the name or bookplate of Richard Ashhurst in them would suggest that Catherine inherited them from her father’ meaning that Richard Ashhurst was, in fact, the original owner of this set (as his name-plates suggest).
I am inclined to think that the latter is true, that Walsh is inconsistent, and the relevant passage should read:
He [R.H.B. Bowie] stipulated a few conditions: first, that any books containing the name or bookplate of Richard Ashhurst, [R. A.] Bowie's maternal grandfather, be removed as belonging to [R.H.B.] Bowie's grandmother.
(And since I am in the middle of marking undergraduate essays, I have to say avoid implied subjects—and don’t start a new paragraph with an implied subject—or, perhaps, just unclear!. This confusion of father and son is exactly the sort of muddle that occurs when writers make liberal use of implied subjects—Walsh refers to “he” twice before he gets to “stipulated”, by which time even the author has forgotten who “he” is.)
Unfortunately, the Thomas Sully portrait of Richard Ashhurst, “Merchant” of “No. 263 Arch St., Phila. … begun March 7th, 1826, finished April 13th, 1826” was “destroyed” prior to 1921 “having been injured beyond repair.” Consequently, I do not have a portrait of the man behind the name, but it is certainly satisfying to be able to trace this set—re-united after having been “broken” for at least thirty years—through six generations of the Ashhurst and Bowie families, from the eighteenth century through to the twenty-first.
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As a final note, I should mention that I had not thought to buy another copy of this fifth edition, but I was offered the volumes with another Haywood item that I very much wanted. As a result I now have three complete sets of the fifth edition, and a fourth (incomplete, but seemingly unique) set of an undated re-issue that I did not know about when my Bibliography was published (thus Ab.67.8a and Ab.67.8b).
Four sets might be considered excessive but—as David Levy reminds me—there are no duplicates in the hand press era. And so, already having a Haywood item is “no reason to hinder a man from the buying of [another], if he has the money that is demanded for [it]”—as Richard de Bury writes—“unless it be to withstand the malice of the seller or to await a more favourable opportunity of buying.”