Coelum philosophorum seu De secretis naturae.

Strasbourg, Ioannis Grienynger, 1528.


Folio, ff. LXIIII. A-I⁶, K⁴, L⁶. The second variant. Roman letter. Title page with alchemical woodcut of the sun and distillation glasses, a further 61 woodcuts, three of which full page, charming woodcut initials incorporating mathematical instruments and diagrams, some capital spaces with guide letters. Very light age yellowing, title page fractionally dusty, very rare mark or spot, small hole repaired on last leaf in blank margin well away from text. A fine copy, crisp and clean with good margins, in excellent speckled tan calf over boards by Riviére, circa 1900, covers bordered with triple gilt rule, spine with gilt ruled raised bands, compartments richly gilt with sunflowers gilt at centres, black morocco labels gilt, edges with double gilt rule, inner dentelles gilt, all edges gilt.

Exceptionally rare second edition, second issue, of this beautifully illustrated work on alchemy and distillation, “a standard authority on the preparation and use of distillates for nearly a century” DSB. The work is also important for its description of recipes for spiced wines, claret, hypocras etc., and describes the preparation of aqua vitae or eau de vie. “Un traité des plus completes de l’art de la distillation.” Oberlé.

Ulstad was a physician and professor at Nuremeberg, who taught medicine at Fribourg and whose work was closely connected with H. Brunschwig, particularly in his innovative use of glass equipment, and further influenced by John of Rupecissa, Raymond Lull, Arnald of Villanova, and Albertus Magnus. The work was immensely popular and reprinted often. Its influence is partially explained by the clarity of his explanations, combined with his use of numerous woodcut illustrations. It is one of the most important early books on the chemicals that can be prepared in more or less pure form by the process of distillation, and contains additional comments on their medicinal uses.

“The lucidity of his technical directions was a major reason for the influence exerted by Ulstad. His discussion of apparatus and manipulative procedures afforded the sixteenth-century investigator an accurate summary of the best distilling theory then available.” DSB. Despite his use of alchemical terminology, Ulstad had clearly moved beyond medieval alchemical traditions in providing concise and rational accounts of the preparation of distilled remedies, intended for apothecaries, surgeons, and medical doctors, and by emphasising the medical efficacy of chemical distillates. He devotes several chapters to potable gold and how it is made (by dissolving gold leaf), and also describes refining gold by cementation.

The work went through more than twenty editions, and was translated into German and French. Newton owned two copies of it. This second edition is particularly rare, as are all early editions, with no copies recorded at auction in recent decades. A very handsome copy of this beautifully illustrated and important alchemical work.

BM STC Ger. C16th p. 879. Not in Adams. Thorndike V, 541-2, 602, 621. Bibl. Magica, 1191. Brunet V, 1008. Duveen, 591. Ferguson, II, 482-3. Caillet, 10914. “contenant les véritables principes de la philosophie hermétique – Très recommandé aux adeptes par Lenglet-Dufresnoy.” Oberlé. Les Fastes de Baccus et de Comus. 1062 (1544 edition).


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