1649 Seneca, printed by Elzevir, in 4 volumes (tall), likely Roger Payne bindings

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Beautiful, tall, soft Elzevir printings of Seneca’s works, likely bound by the venerable Roger Payne.

Note on Vol. 1 endpage, "Payne Binding", insinuating the bindings were executed by Payne, considered one of the finest binders of the 18th century.

Also, the 1885 Sotheby catalogue lists, “SENECAE OPERA OMNIA cum Notis J. F. Gronovii, 4 vol. very fine and large copy (5 1/4 inches) in red morocco, gilt edges, by Roger Payne, rare Lugd. Bat. Elzevir, 1649.”

Our books are 5.25” tall, making it highly likely these are the same books.


There exists a clear record of 4 volumes, attributed to Roger Payne, bound in red Morocco, of the 1649 Elzevir Seneca being sold since 1841 (with all of the catalogs listed below scanned and free-to-view on Google Books).

Combining auction records and ownership marks in the book I propose the following provenance:

Possible that the “M. Wod” on the 1st volume’s endpage refers to Michael Wodhall.

1819 – W. Fisher - Erased some of the endpage inscription noted above and added his name in 1819.

Robert William Hay (R.W. Hay) bookplate –Under Secretary to the Colonies until 1836 (per Wikipedia)

1841 Bohn Catalog - Page 745

1866 Sotheby Dr. Wellesley Sale - page 302

1885 Sotheby Osterly Park Sale - page 162

1900 Bangs and Co. Catalog - page 28

Henry William Poor (of Standard's and Poor's) – bookplate

Walter Thomas Wallace - Noted bibliophile - bookplate

Oscar Sutro (V.P. pf Standard Oil Company) - bookplate

Michael Wodhall had his books bound by Roger Payne. Although Fisher, in 1819, erased much of the info at the upper right of the v.1. front blank endpaper, there appears a "M. Wod" towards the left of the leaf. This is possibly Wodhall's name only partially erased by Fisher (or abbreviated).

Also, when you look through the same endpaper, you can see a pasted-in piece of paper was removed; was this Payne's written receipt? He was known to paste his receipt in.

The Folger has a matching binding design on a Shakespeare First Folio with the same "Payne" attribution written in the front, but they note in their record that they aren't sure of the attribution either.

About the Work

Seneca the Younger, fully Lucius Annaeus Seneca and also known simply as Seneca, was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and—in one work—humorist of the Silver Age of Latin literature.

Seneca was born in Cordoba in Hispania, and raised in Rome, where he was trained in rhetoric and philosophy. He was a tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero. He was forced to take his own life for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, in which he was likely to have been innocent. His father was Seneca the Elder, his elder brother was Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus, and his nephew was the poet Lucan. His stoic and calm suicide has become the subject of numerous paintings. As a writer Seneca is known for his philosophical works, and for his plays which are all tragedies. His philosophical writings include a dozen philosophical essays, and one hundred and twenty-four letters dealing with moral issues. As a tragedian, he is best-known for his Medea and Thyestes.

About the Printer

Elzevir is the name of a celebrated family of Dutch booksellers, publishers, and printers of the 17th and early 18th centuries. “The duodecimo series of ‘Elzevirs’ became very famous and very desirable among bibliophiles, who sought to obtain the tallest and freshest copies of these tiny books.” - Andrew Lang, "Elzevirs" in Books and Bookmen, Longmans, 1903

Please note that 19th century Sotheby’s considered our copies exceptionally tall (see earlier quote from their 1885 catalogue).

Physical Attributes

Morocco leather, AEG, gilt border to boards and seven stripes of gilt across spines simulating ribs (pointille style gilt roll); “Seneca”, volume, “Elz” and “1649” in gilt on spines. Books measure 15 1/4 x 3 1/8 inch. Volume one – (1) xxiv leaves, 552 numbered pages, (1). Volume two – (1), 718 numbered pages, (1). Volume three – (1), 442 numbered pages, lengthy unnumbered “Rerum” index, (1). Volume four – (1) xii leaves, 429 numbered pages, unnumbered index, (1)


See pictures. Some shelf wear on bottom edges. All spines have some discoloring and occasional marks. Boards mostly clean. Volume 1 has a bumped top rear corner. Volume four has a thumb size indent on rear board, a little chipping at top of spine, a small chip in binding at fore-edge, and loss of leather at the upper corners.

All four books share three bookplates and one stamp (see provenance notes). All have pencil notes on the endpapers, volume one more. Volume one has toning to introductory pages, and the last two pages, the rest of the text block being clean and free of any annotations. Pages towards the end of volume two have the slightest toning. Volume three is more toned throughout. Volume four also is very lightly toned. I notice a very occasional small spot as well.

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