BIRELLI, Giovanni Battista. Alchimia nova.

Frankfurt, Nicholas Hoffman, 1603. [with]

LIBAVIUS, Andreas, CAMERARIUS, Joachim. D.O.M.A. Alchymistische Practic.

Frankfurt, Johann Saurn in Verlegung Petri Kopffen, 1603.


FIRST EDITIONS thus. 4to. 2 parts in 1, pp. (xvi) 724 (xxii); 293 (iii). Gothic letter. T-ps in red and black, first with small woodcut printer’ device, another to verso of last, 17 small woodcuts of alchemical images to first, another 19 to second, woodcut initials and ornaments. Varying degrees of browning (poor or poorly dried paper), I: small, very light water stain at upper and lower gutter of first few gatherings, small repair to lower blank margin of 2Q4, II: tiny ink burn to outer blank margin of H1, light water stain to upper outer corner of gatherings P-2O4. A good copy in well-preserved contemporary German pigskin, four ties, double blind ruled to a panel design, outer border with blind-stamped figures of Fides, Prudentia and Spes [written Pes], second with blind-tooled roll of small heads within roundels and tendrils, centre panel with large fleurons to centre and corners, raised bands, upper joint just split at head, edges a bit dusty, lower corners slightly rubbed. Early inscription to t-p of first, C18 bibliographical inscription and C17 list of plants used to purify blood and ease the brain to rear eps.

A solidly bound sammelband of two scarce alchemical works. ‘Alchimia nova’ is here the first edition in German from an Italian original published in Florence in 1602, and dedicated to Cosimo de’ Medici, by Giovanni Battista Birelli da Siena. More similar to a book of secrets, it sees ‘alchemy’ as a broad discipline embracing how to produce and transmute sundry kinds of alchemical substances, including oils, perfumes, dyes, waters, silver, gold, glues, gemstones, salts and even glass. It is prefaced by a life of Hermes Trismegistus, also portrayed, and proceeds with a discussion of what is ‘the art of alchemy’ and its processes and ‘recipes’, including the sublimation of quicksilver, accompanied by an alphabetical list of the most important characters found in alchemical formulae. The processes are illustrated in small woodcuts showing burning furnaces and alambics. It also features numerous recipes pertaining to arts such as glassmaking, e.g., how to construct a window with paper which will work as well as glass, with the help of gumma arabica. This fascinating manual is among those grounded in the broader ancient and medieval tradition for which ‘alchemy’ reached beyond technical cornerstones like the search for the philosopher’s stone. The second work was written by Andreas Libavius (1550-1616), professor at Jena, physician and alchemist. First published as ‘Alchemia’ in 1597, it has been called the earliest chemistry textbook, instructing the reader on common recipes for medical use, to the chagrin of alchemists who sought instead to keep their art to themselves. This 1603 edition features a shortened version of ‘Alchemia’ together with ‘Commentationum metallicorum libri’ (1597). It includes sections on chemical procedures of distillation and extraction of waters, oils and balms from common plants and minerals, but also on quintessence and the philosopher’s stone (entitled ‘De arte hermetica’). Libavius is renowned for his discovery of antimony sulfide, ammonium sulfate, tin tetrachloride and hydrochloric acid.

I: No copies recorded in the US.

Ferguson I, 107; Wellcome I, 872; Graesse I, 430 (1654 ed.). Not in Duveen.

II: Delaware, NLM, Linda Hall and Nebraska copies recorded in the US.

Ferguson I, 33; Wellcome I, 3774; Durling 2810 (1599 ed.). Duveen only mentions other eds.


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