THE EXCELLENCE OF TOBACCO

Il petopiccino, overo Eccellenza e doti del tabacco.

Viterbo, Diotallevi, [1650?]. 

£3,750

FIRST EDITION. 12mo. pp. (xiv) 152. Woodcut of tobacco plant on t-p, decorated initials, head- and tailpieces. Light age browning, minor loss to t-p fore-edge, small stain to lower edge of first three gatherings, slight foxing, some marginal pen marks. A very good copy in half calf and patterned boards c1900, minor scuffing at foot of spine, contemporary autograph ‘Michele Barbierij’ to t-p, early ms. ‘TABACCO’ to first blank.

Scarce, curious manual on tobacco, probably the earliest Italian attempt at a scientific disquisition on the topic. All we know about Giovanni Piccino is what is written on the t-p: he was a doctor in the town of Orte, near Rome. Based on ancient and modern authorities, ‘Petopiccino’ is a systematic study of the excellency and virtues of tobacco—a ‘divine gift’, a ‘force of nature’—addressed to the wider Italian public. Due to its intensive use in Europe after its arrival in Spain from the New World, Piccino calls it the ‘fifth element’, a quasi-Aristotelian substance necessary for ‘the preservation of our Platonic microcosm’. After discussing its botanical features and etymology, explaining that ‘peto’ is a name given to it in the New World, he proceeds to list its virtues if cooked, chewed, distilled, etc., and its wondrous powers including chasing away venomous animals, repressing libido, treating stomach ache and relieving the symptoms of gout. He also mentions early criticism of tobacco; for instance, when sniffed in the form of powder—its most popular use—it may cause excessive sneezing and even lesions to the nose. An interesting medical, botanical and ethnographic compendium on the social importance of tobacco in C17 Italy.    

Only five copies recorded. 

BM STC It. C17, p. 682; Alden 650/164. Not in Brunet, Simon or Oberlé.

L2852

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