MATHER, John and Joseph MAYER. A Catalogue of the Drawings, Miniatures, Cameos, and other Objects of Art, Illustrative of the Bonaparte Family, and the Principal Persons Connected with the Republic and Empire of France, now in the Collection of John Mather, Esq., of Mount Pleasant, Liverpool: Arranged, and Illustrated by a Short History of that Eventful Period, by Joseph Mayer …, and Exhibited at the Soiree Given by the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire to the British Association, on their Meeting in Congress at Liverpool, September 27, 1854. Liverpool: printed by David Marples [?for John Mather], 1854.

Octavo in 4s (210 x 132mm), pp. 36. (A few light spots.) Original plain paper wrappers. (Wrappers slightly spotted and creased, short tears on joints.) A very good, uncut copy in the original wrappers; provenance: Essex Archaeological Society (autograph presentation inscription on upper wrapper from the co-author ‘The Essex Archaeological Society from Joseph Mayer F.S.A.’; inkstamps on upper wrapper and title; acquired by:) – Georgina Dawson, Colchester, 4 March 1977 (ownership inscription on upper wrapper ‘Georgina Dawson. 4th March 1977 Colchester EAS Library’).

First edition. The wealthy Liverpool merchant, collector, and antiquarian John Mather (fl. 1841-1854) was an associate of the British Archaeological Association and a member of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (he also served as the Society’s Auditor). This catalogue records the drawings, miniatures, cameos, and other artworks from Mather’s collection, together with a gold and enamelled snuff box with a miniature of the Countess of Coventry and a snuff box with a miniature of Lady Worsley, both from the collection of his brother Daniel Mather, which were exhibited at a soirée given by the Society for members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science who were attending the Association’s twenty-fourth meeting in Liverpool. The catalogue documents some remarkable relics: a miniature of Carlo Buonaparte, the father of Napoleon, which ‘formerly belonged to Louis Napoleon, and is the only likeness known of the grandfather of the present Emperor [i.e. Napoleon III]’ (item 1); ‘Napoleon as Emperor’ painted by Jean-Baptiste Isabey (item 8); a miniature of the King of Rome, ‘painted just prior to the abdication of Napoleon’ by Isabey (item 36); a gilt snuff box ‘with portrait of Josephine in an oval, round which is a border composed of her hair. This was left by her to Madame Ney’ (item 46); and ‘an enamelled brooch, containing a lock of hair, which was given to B.H. Ross, Captain of H.M.S. Northumberland, by Napoleon himself, at St. Helena’ (item 70).  

The exhibition catalogue is followed by an essay on ‘The Bonaparte Family’ on pp. [10]-36 by the Liverpool jeweller, silversmith, and antiquarian Joseph Mayer FSA, FRAS (1803-1886), who had been a founder member of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, and served as the Honorary Curator of its Museum. Mayer was a voracious and eclectic collector, who amassed large collections including (but certainly not limited to) antiquities, early European artefacts, books and works of art from the mediaeval and renaissance eras, and militaria. In 1852 Mayer had exhibited some of the Egyptian antiquities (which included items from the collection of Henry Salt) at his ‘Egyptian Museum’ in Colquitt Street, Liverpool and in 1857, following the opening of the Derby Museum (later the Liverpool Museum) in 1851, Mayer made a generous and substantial gift from his collections to the city of Liverpool. This donation ‘consisted of nearly 14,000 items including prehistoric, Egyptian, Classical, Etruscan, Peruvian and Mexican antiquities, medieval and post medieval manuscripts, ivories, enamels, embroideries, pottery, clocks and watches, arms and armour, and ethnology. […] This collection represents the biggest single donation of objects of art and antiquity to Liverpool museum, and it placed Liverpool in the front rank of provincial museums both for the scope and the quality of its collections’ (S. Nicholson and M. Warhurst, ‘The Mayer Collection. Part I’ in The Museum Archaeologist, no. 8 (June 1982), pp. 9-17, at p. 9). 

Mayer’s collections also included miniatures and medals relating to Napoleon, many of which he had purchased while travelling in France, and he sold a number of these to his fellow-antiquarian John Mather prior to this exhibition at the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire’s soirée in 1854. Consequently, the two men’s collaboration on this catalogue and exhibition combined the knowledge of both, and Mayer’s essay briefly traces the early origins of the family, before concentrating on the lives of Carlo and Letizia Buonaparte, and their eight surviving children, cross-referencing the details of their lives to the catalogue items. Mayer’s account concludes with a biographical sketch of Louis-Napoleon, recounting the publication of Des idées napoléoniennes in 1839, his unsuccessful coup in 1840 and incarceration, his escape from captivity in 1846 and exile in England, his return to Paris in 1848 and electoral success, and, finally, his very recent election as Emperor Napoleon III in 1852. The essay concludes with the words ‘[i]n the extraordinary rise of Louis-Napoleon, the name seems to have once more a chance of showing itself in a right relation to mankind. The people of France desire to see the nephew of their great Emperor taking the duty of consolidating their republican institutions. If he does so in the self-denying spirit of a Washington, he will secure for himself an illustrious name. And whatever may be the difficulties under which the Napoleon family arrived at the great power they once held, it cannot be denied that they possessed in a high degree a full appreciation of the misrule which existed throughout Europe at that time, when the doctrine of the day was the luxury of the few in opposition to the misery of the multitude, and we hope the present ruler of France will, even as he now seems disposed to do – advocate the divine law of justice with love to our fellow-men, and maintain the progress of civilisation against the attacks of absolute barbaric despotism’ (p. 36).

The exhibition seems to have been well received and it was revived at Liverpool’s Town Hall the following year to commemorate Allied victories in the Crimea, accompanied by a revised catalogue: A Catalogue of the Drawings, Miniatures, Cameos, and other Objects of Art, Illustrative of the Bonaparte Family, and the Principal Persons Connected with the Republic and Empire of France, now in the Collection of John Mather, Esq., of Mount Pleasant, Liverpool: Arranged, and Illustrated by a Short History of that Eventful Period, by Joseph Mayer …, Exhibited in the Town Hall, at a Soiree Given by James Aspinall Tobin, Esq., Mayor, in Honour of the Victories Gained by the Allied Armies of England, France, and Sardinia, in the Crimea (Liverpool, 1855). The second catalogue seems to have included all of the items exhibited in this first catalogue, but was enlarged from 89 to 104 exhibits, and it reprinted Mayer’s essay ‘The Bonaparte Family’, which was augmented with a final paragraph praising the alliance of ‘Napoleon the Third, with Victoria the First, standing forward in the defence of the rights of mankind, for which they are well prepared to battle with the foe, and drive him back within the limits of his former empire’ (p. 40). 

Fittingly, Mather’s Napoleonic collections acquired from Mayer would eventually be re-united with Mayer’s collection, since ‘at his decease, [Mather] bequeathed to the town [i.e. Liverpool] a valuable collection of miniatures and medals connected with the Bonaparte family, which is believed to be unique’ (J.A. Picton, Memorials of Liverpool Historical and Topographical, Including a History of the Dock Estate (London, 1875), II, p. 211). Both collections were included in C.T. Gatty’s Catalogue of Mediæval & Later Antiquities Contained in the Mayer Museum, Including the Mather Collection of Miniatures and Medals Relating to the Bonaparte Family (Liverpool, 1883), and they are presently housed at the World Museum (the Liverpool Museum’s successor; Mayer’s medieval manuscripts, ivories and enamels are presently housed in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).

This copy of the catalogue was inscribed by Mayer to the Essex Archaeological Society, which had been founded in 1852, and whose Transactions published H.W. King’s ‘Roman Antiquities in Bronze and Silver, Found at Colchester and Marks-Tey, now Preserved in the Collection of Joseph Mayer, Esq., F.S.A., &c., &c., at Liverpool’ shortly afterwards (Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society II (1859-1863), pp. 56-58; other donations by Mayer to the Society can be traced in its Transaction, but not the present work). It was presumably de-accessioned by the Society’s library in or around 1977, when it was acquired from the library by Georgina Dawson.


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