Regulations for the Establishment and Government of the Royal Military Asylum.

London: C. Mercier for T. Egerton, Military Library, Whitehall, 1805.

(21.5 x 13.5 cm): 66 pp., plus 4 folding ff. of forms, leaves with gilded edges, bound in straight grain red morocco with black title register to front cover bearing gilt debossed title, simple gilt ruling to edges and spine, contemporary silk book-place ribbon, 1920s bookplate to front free endpaper (Very Good, internally remarkably clean and crisp, binding highly attractive with only a couple of minor nicks to edges and some light wear to spine).  

The extremely rare first edition of the foundational work of the Royal Military Asylum, a home for orphaned and underprivileged children of British Army personnel, located in Chelsea on the site of today’s Saatchi Gallery (the home of the London Firsts Antiquarian Book Fair); the asylum was generously supported by the good and great of the military establishment and over its century or so of operation it trained thousands of boys for military careers and hundreds of girls for domestic service; the present example is a gorgeous marquis copy, bound in full straight grain red morocco, with fine gilt title and tooling and gilt edged pages.


The Royal Military Asylum for the Children of Soldiers of the Regular Army commenced operation in 1803 to act as a home for orphaned children of British Army personnel, as well as the children of impoverished soldiers or those who were seconded overseas on assignment.  The institution was located on a premises just off the King’s Road in Chelsea, London, and was well funded, with many of the luminaries of the British military establishment serving as either sponsors or board members.  The board was initially chaired by none other than Frederick, the Duke of York, Commander-in-Chief of the U.K. Armed Forces.


The asylum was home to around 1,000 children of both genders, at any one time.  The boys were trained for army careers, while the girls were prepared for domestic service.  In the 1820s, the girls at the asylum were transferred to a new school in Southampton.  The boys remained at the Chelsea premises, which was renamed as the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in 1892, until it was relocated to Dover, in 1909.  


In 1909, the asylum premises was converted to being the headquarters of the army’s Duke of York’s Regiment, and it remained as such until 2003, when the U.K. Defense Ministry sold the property.  In 2007, the main site of premises became the Saatchi Gallery, a museum hosting Charles Saatchi’s famed art collection.  Beginning in the autumn of 2021, the Saatchi Gallery has hosted the annual London Firsts Antiquarian Book Fair.


The present work is the foundational document of the Royal Military Asylum.  The body of the text is comprised of the ‘Warrant, Containing Orders and Regulations, regarding the Establishment and Government of the Royal Military Asylum’ which outlines the early history, mandate, leadership and sponsors of the institution, along with a listing of the asylum’s staff members and their specific duties.  At the end, it is singed by the board (listing all its members), led by the Duke of York, dated April 26, 1805.


Rounding out the work are a series of 4 charts, being 1) a Diet Table, For One Child, noting the menu of meals for each day of the week; 2) a sample Application Form for Boys to enter the institution; 3) a form regarding back-up material for applicants, including Marriage, Birth and Baptism Certificates and Certificate of Health; and 4) an Application Form for Girls.

The present example of the work is a marquis copy, as it is bound in full straight grain red morocco, with fine gilt title and tooling, and with gilt edged pages.  It features the bookplate of Rolf Keller, dated 1929, made by the German painter and book illustrator Rudolf Oeffinger (1870-1952).

The present work was published in two editions; the present first edition of 1805, and the second, issued in 1819 (printed in Chelsea by Tilling and Hughes).  We can trace only a single institutional example of the first edition, held by the British Library.  We can trace only single sales record from the last 25 years, an example bound in contemporary marble wrappers which sold Bonham’s in 2008.  The 1819 edition is rare, known in only a small number of institutional examples. 


References: British Library: RB.23.a.31453.