Memories from home for the last Russian empress

HALL, Mr and Mrs [ie. Samuel Carter and Anna Maria]

The Book of the Thames. From Its Rise to Its Fall

Publication: London, J.S. Virtue & Col. Limited, [1870s-80s].

HALL, Mr and Mrs [ie. Samuel Carter and Anna Maria], The Book of the Thames. From Its Rise to Its Fall

Not only an imperial copy from the Tsarina’s library, but possibly a book she had while still in England – since she was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. A fine example of this bestseller.

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Our Notes & References

With British and Russian imperial provenance: Alexandra Fedorovna’s copy, bound in full red morocco signed. With subsequent artistic provenance.

The daughter of Grand Duke of Hesse Louis IV and his first wife, Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, the Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, later Alexandra Fedorovna of Russia (1872-1918), was thought to be a favourite granddaughter of Queen Victoria who took a direct role in her and her siblings’ upbringing after the death of Princess Alice in 1878. Alix spent a lot of her childhood in England until her marriage to Tsar Nicholas II in 1894, “a match that didn’t overly thrill Queen Victoria but which she bore with relative equanimity” (Clegg). Both Alexandra and Nicholas were executed by the Bolsheviks during the Revolution.

This copy was bound in England by R. Ingalton Drake, a binder active in Eton in the 1870s up to the late 1890s and whose luxury bindings are widely present in the royal collection of Queen Victoria (now Royal Collection Trust). It could be therefore that the royal bride already had this volume in Britain before bringing it to Russia, or that she received it for her wedding. The Tsarina’s bookplate was designed only in 1914 by Arminii Folkerzam, an important art historian and curator of the Treasure Gallery of the Imperial Hermitage.

The book later passed to Canadian pianist Ellen Ballon (1898-1969), and then was purchased in 1937 from Hammer Galleries in New York by Sarah Tack Ryan, who gave it as a birthday gift to her daughter Sally Ryan (1916-68), a celebrated American artist and sculptor.

This comprehensive and engaging study, boasting almost 300 illustrations, details the course and the history of the Thames from Gloucestershire to the North Sea, and the many towns, villages, settlements, flora, fauna, bridges, views, and ships along its banks, as well as histories of the Globe Theatre, Old London Bridge, and Hampton Court. It was composed jointly by Samuel Carter Hall (1800-89), a journalist who gained prominence as an editor of ‘The Art Journal’, and his wife Anna Maria Fielding (1800-81), a novelist, renowned for her works on Irish life.


Empress Aleksandra Fedorovna Romanova (bookplate on upper endpaper); Ellen Ballon; Sarah Tack Ryan (original bill of sale from Hammer Galleries [signed by Miss Sally Ryan]); Sally Ryan (birthday gift note dated Nov 5, 1939 inserted in the book).


Clegg, Melanie. “When Queen Victoria was Empress Alexandra’s interfering granny”, Historia Magazine, 2020.

Item number



Physical Description

Large 8vo (23 x 17 cm). XII incl. half-title and title, 460 pp. incl. numerous in-text engravings throughout.


Contemporary full red morocco by R. Ingalton Drake, spine with raised bands, blind stamped fillets, gilt lettering, frames with triple blind stamped fillets on boards and turn-ins, gilt edges, yellow endpapers.


Spine slightly sunned, light staining and soiling on boards; very light soiling on endpapers, light marginal creases and soiling on half-title, all pages very fresh.

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