ALCHEMICAL TREATISE CONTAINING THE FIRST CHEMISTRY TEXTBOOK

Alchymia recognita, emendata, et aucta (incl. Commentarii).

Frankfurt, Johannes Saur for Peter Kopff, 1506 (i.e. 1606). (with)

—. Syntagma selectorum alchymiae arcanorum.

Frankfurt, Nikolaus Hoffmann for Peter Kopff, 1611. (and)

—. Syntagmatis arcanorum chymicorum… tomus secundus.

Frankfurt, Nikolaus Hoffmann for Peter Kopff, 1613. (and)

—. Appendix necessaria syntagmatis (incl. Examen Philosophiae and Analysis confessionis fraternitatis de rosea cruce).

Frankfurt, Nikolaus Hoffmann for Peter Kopff, 1615.

£7,500 

FIRST COLLECTED EDITION. Folio. Six works in two volumes: I) pp. (20), 196, (22), 402, 192, (12); II) pp. (12), 480, (8); III) pp. (12), 453, (15); IV) pp. (12), 279, (13); V) 306, (12); VI) 28, (2). Predominantly Roman letter, little Italic, Greek and Gothic; three main engraved titles with the same architectural border by G. Keller, ‘1605’, including five vignettes depicting alchemical experiments, Galen and Aristotle standing with alchemical equipment surmounted by Hippocrates and Hermes praying to Hebrew ‘name’ for God, and angels at side; printer’s device with Ganymede’s abduction on all titles, larger on half- and at end of IV); initials and head- and tail-pieces, mostly grotesque, numerous illustrations of alchemical tools, equipment and processes, occasionally full page; lightly browned in a few places, very occasional rust spots and light damp stains, mainly marginal; small repairs at foot of first title, clean tear to NN2 in first volume, oxidised (contemporary?) fly on Aar of second volume. A very good, well-margined copy in contemporary vellum, contemporary manuscript titles on spines, remains of original green silk ties; slight wear; sporadic contemporary underlining; early price note and shelf mark at chipped head of front endpaper, stamp of the Austro-Italian noble family Colloredo on the first title of each volume.

Rare, first and most complete two-volume edition of influential alchemical works, partially published in 1597. Andreas Libavius (1550-1616) was a prominent chemist, logician and physician, teaching in the best German universities of his time. In his numerous works, he tried to disprove the occult and mystical aspects of alchemy, and turn it into a more scientific discipline, but without abandoning basic alchemical notions such as the transmutation of metals. In contemporary academic debates, he usually took the Aristotelian viewpoint against Paracelsus and other Renaissance naturalists, pioneering an analytical approach to alchemy/ chemistry.

Alchymia, the pivotal work of this collection, is regarded as the first modern chemistry textbook. It exerted a considerable influence over the seventeenth-century French school, which developed further his ideas and thorough methodology. The illustrations play an important part in the enduring success of the book, depicting a vast number of chemical instruments, from vessels to furnaces, as well as a chemical laboratory. Among the many topics dealt with by Libavius, those concerning mineral water and the philosophers’ stone – the latter with lavish full-page illustrations – are particularly remarkable. The final poignant pamphlet is directed against Rosicrucianism, one of the first attacks on this mystic-philosophical secret society founded between 1607 and 1616.

‘[Alchymia] is considered the greatest and most beautiful (because of the numerous illustrations) of all books on chemistry in the seventeenth century. […] Libavius can be ranked as a first-rate chemist on the basis of those parts of the book that can be considered truly chemical’ DSB VIII, pp. 310-311.

BM STC 17th Germ., L655, 664-665; VD17, 39:125360T, 39:125409C, 39:125443H, 39:125448W; Ferguson, II, 31-34; Duveen, 357 (Alchymia); Mellon, 71 (Appendix); Caillet, 6659, 6661 (Analysus and Examen, both considered ‘ouvrage très rare’); Thorndike, VI, 238, 242-243.

L2164

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