THE SEARCH FOR THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE, IN HANDSOME MANUSCRIPT BINDING

Praeciosa ac nobilissima artis chymiae collectanea.

Nuremberg, Gabriel Hain, 1554.

£4,950

FIRST EDITION. 4to, ff. (8), 124. Roman letter; printer’s device on title, large historiated initials and full-page alchemical illustration; a few leaves lightly browned. A very good, wide-margined copy bound with folded fifteenth-century German manuscript leaf on vellum of liturgical music over eighteenth-century boards; black and red text of various Psalms with music sheet and two red and blue decorated initials; slightly rubbed on spine, a couple of small stains to rear cover, corners a bit bumped and chipped; on front endpaper, seventeenth-century owner’s inscription ‘Cathena,’ tiny old bookseller’s stamp on front pastedown and modern pencil shelf marks on front endpaper and title versos.

Fine copy of the rare first edition of a fundamental text on alchemy. Janus Lacinius, probably a humanist pseudonym, is thought to be Giovanni da Crotone, a Franciscan friar from Calabria. This German edition was considered for a long time a reprint of another alchemical collection by Lacinius, published by the Aldine press in Venice in 1546 (Pretiosa Margarita Novella de Thesauro); however, despite the similarity in the titles, the contents are substantially different, and this Praeciosa collectanea is now correctly regarded as a first edition.

In this book, Lacinius provides a detailed overview of the vast world of alchemy, describing in particular how to obtain the philosophers’ stone through many stages of metal refinement. The large initial woodcut depicts a sort of an outdoor laboratory, with a scholar handling a huge vessel, and a massive circular furnace crackling behind him.

The printer’s dedication presents alchemy as a useful and Christian discipline, and addresses Anton Fugger’s nephews, Johann (Hans) Jakob (1516 – 1575) and Georg (1518 – 1569). Their renowned book collections are extensively praised and hailed as unparalleled venues for the preservation and transmission of knowledge, where a book like Lacinius’ must not be missed. Hans Jakob Fugger was one of the greatest collectors of his time, gathering some 12,000 volumes, mostly provided with fine luxurious bindings and including the collection of Hartmann Schedel, the author of the Nuremberg Chronicle. In 1571, the bulk of Hans Jakob’s books was purchased by the Duke of Bavaria and is now held in the Bavarian State Library. The library assembled by Georg Fugger, less known and extensive, was nevertheless very rich in mathematical, astronomical, astrological, and other scientific works.

Rare. Not in Adams, Brunet or Caillet.

BM STC Ger., 480; Duveen, 332; Ferguson, II, 3;Graesse, IV, 63; VD16, L34; Wellcome, 3608.

L2163

Print This Item Print This Item