As a cultural moment, the Eighteenth Century began before 1701. Spinoza, Locke, and Newton all lived and wrote in the 1600s before the calendar turned (Newton lived a little longer), but their scientific frame of mind, their independent thinking, their curiosity about the things of this world, clearly belong to the century that followed.
So, our category, “The Long 18th Century,” begins with books published in the 1670s that participate in the emerging secular frame of mind, and it extends into the 1800s with items that look back to the courtesies of the past. The heart of the matter is the troubled “Age of Enlightenment” (a very sanitary name for the turmoil, doubt, and conflict that actually took place).
Our inventory is always changing. It may include historical documents or ephemera (such as the manuscript “magic age card” (#6004), a handwritten table of numbers that allows its holder to guess any person’s true age. It may include distasteful philosophical tracts, such as that of Johann Gottlieb Herder defending nationalism (#6019). There are illustrated records of sea voyages (#5440, the French edition of Captain Cook’s voyage to the South Pacific and Antarctica, in five volumes and a larger volume of plates). There is even comedy, such as the adventures of the Blunderhead family in Bath, England (#3846) We like the outsiders and the outliers: Nicolas-Edme Réstif de la Bretonne (libertine pornographer, defender of women, utopian thinker, eccentric); Benjamin Franklin (polymath, printer, diplomat, Founding Father, eccentric);
We like the outsiders and the outliers: Nicolas-Edme Réstif de la Bretonne (libertine pornographer, defender of women, utopian thinker, eccentric); Benjamin Franklin (polymath, printer, diplomat, Founding Father, eccentric); Fortunata Sulgher Fantastici (improvisational poet, proto-feminist, eccentric); William Blake (poet, painter, eccentric). The eighteenth century was the end of the era of the hand-made book (except by determined artisans). Mechanization of the printing press and of paper manufacture began slowly in the 1770s and had taken over completely by the end of the century, closing an era of intense intellectual fermentation, adventurous action, individual achievement, and artistic endeavor.