The only known surviving sketchbook of Thomas Bewick has returned home to the North East.
The 230-year-old sketchbook belonging to one of the world’s finest wood engravers and naturalists was discovered at a book fair in San Francisco by North Shields-based antiquarian book dealer Anthony Smithson.
Anthony stumbled across the rare piece of history, which had been lost to sight for nearly 100 years, and, after authenticating the item, purchased the book on behalf of David Bolam, a passionate Bewick collector who also hails from the North East.
The pocket-sized sketchbook, which was officially handed over to its new owner at Newcastle’s Lit & Phil Society in front of the resident marble bust of Bewick by EH Baily, is said to be one of the most important finds in recent times for the ongoing celebration of Bewick’s life and his work and has provided Bewick scholars with access to many unseen drawings and sketches.
Anthony Smithson, a Bewick specialist who runs antiquarian and second-hand bookshop Keel Row Books, said: “I’ve had a lot of dealings with Bewick’s work over the years and the market for anything Bewick related is pretty buoyant not only here in the North East but around the globe.
“However, it’s not very often you come across such rare and significant finds as this and I am just delighted that we have been able to find a buyer who shares our enthusiasm for Bewick and bring this important piece of history back to the North East.”
David, an enthusiastic Bewick collector added: “Bewick’s work has always captivated me because of its professional depiction of nature, often combined with a quirky background.
“Having lived and worked on farms in the Tyne Valley in my own youth, I have always been interested in nature and the countryside and could therefore identify with the work of Bewick, who hailed from nearby Cherryburn.
“I jumped at the chance of acquiring the sketchbook not only to satisfy my personal interest, but it also seemed important to me it returned to the north of England.”
Bewick is best known for his A History of British Birds, which is admired today mainly for its wood engravings and was the forerunner of all modern field guides.