BASTON, Thomas. Twenty-two Prints of Several of the Capital Ships of His Majesty's Royal Navy with Variety of other Sea Pieces. [London: Thomas Bowles, ca 1720].

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Folio (20 x 14 inches). Engraved title-page and 2 fine engraved double-page plates by du Puis, C. du Bosse, J. Sartor, J. Cole, E. Kirkall, J. Harris and others (some minor marginal spotting). Modern full blue crushed morocco gilt by Zaehnsdorf, all edges gilt.

First edition. Magnificent images of ships at sea, in glorious battle, and in port, including specific portraits such as the Royal Sovereign, the Royal George, the Royal Anne, the Britannia, the Blenheim, the Barfleur, sometimes surrounded by mythical figures such as Neptune, sea-monsters etc., all dedicated to His Majesty King George I, His Royal Highness George, Prince of Wales, and other peers of the realm. Two plates are dedicated to "The Court of Directors of the South Sea Company. This Piece being a representation of the Fishery of Great Britain, in its three different Branches viz. Cod, Herring, and whale...", "to the Honourable Sir John Eyles ... sub-Governour of the South-Sea-Company Whales or Greenland Fishery".

The South Sea Company, launched in 1711, partly as a Tory rival to the Whiggish bank and East India Company, but with the aim of transforming the unfunded national debt into its stock, was at the center of "the most notorious episode in the history of eighteenth-century financial speculation. The South Sea Bubble seemed to contemporaries to be like an attack of mass madness, affecting all levels of society, as a large swathe of the population became convinced that their fortunes could be transformed by investing in the South Sea Company. Where the stock market had previously been regarded as the newfangled invention of moneyed men to make money make money, the main investors being identified with the commercial sector of the City, by 1720 all types and conditions of people-nobles, country gentlemen, Oxford dons, clergymen, as well as women of various social ranks-were infected by the fever of speculation ... Then the crash came [in 1720]. The price of £100 of stock fell to £290 by the end of September, and to £170 by mid-October. Many were losers from the bursting of the bubble. Even George I lost £56,000" (W. A. Speck and Matthew Kilburn for DNB).