Tractatus de virtutibus herbarum.

Venice, Simon Bevilaqua, 1499.


4to. ff. 172. A4, a-x8. including final blank. Roman letter in two sizes, 28 lines first part, 37 lines second part, title in Gothic. Large white on black floriated initial, capital spaces with guide letters, 150 numbered half-page woodcuts of plants (a few misnumbered), bookplates of Carleton P. Richmond and Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow on pastedown. Single worm hole in lower blank margin, very occasional minor marginal thumb mark. A fine copy, crisp and clean, on thick paper, with very good margins, in cream paper over boards c. 1800, orange paper labels gilt, head and tail fractionally rubbed.

A lovely copy of the second Italian edition of the Herbarius, the first illustrated herbal printed south of the Alps. Many of the woodcuts, first used in the Vicenza 1491 edition, differ substantially from those of the earlier German editions. The blocks, cut for that Vicenza edition, were imported to Venice by Simon Bevilacqua for this one. Following an error in the text, the work was wrongly attributed to Arnaldus de Villanova. The text is divided into two sections.

The first part features 150 woodcuts of plants which grew in Germany, arranged in alphabetical order with a Latin name and a description of their  properties and medical uses. Among the best known are garlic, basil, chamomile, ivy, gentian, genista, lily, lemon verbena, mallow, mint, marjoram, mandrake, oregano, leek, poppy, rose, rosemary, currant, spinach, willow, sage, violet, valerian. Among the rarest is ‘artemisia’ or mugwort, a plant used in the past to cure female illnesses and problems. A bath in the water of a decoction made essentially with mugwort and laurel’s leaves would induce abortion of a foetus and menstruation. Mugwort was also used to treat frigidity and sterility, and to keep demons away from home.

The second part, in 96 chapters, deals with the medicines and herbs available from German apothecaries and spice merchants such as laxatives; aromatics, fruits, seeds and garden plants; gums and resins; salts; minerals and stones; and animals and their products (goose-greese, cheese, honey and ivory). The purpose of the work was entirely practical. The illustrations are stylised and full of charm, and the names are printed clearly in capital letters, so that the plants could be easily identified by, and accessible to a barely literate public. A very valuable and popular pharmacopoeia which went through a number of editions, of which the Italian ones display “a different and better set of figures” (Arber p. 17).

“These drawings are more ambitious than those in the original German [editions], and, on the whole, they are more naturalistic. A delightful example, almost Japanese in style, shows an iris at the edge of a stream, from which a graceful bird is drinking. In another picture the fern called ‘capillus veneris’, which is perhaps intended for the maidenhair, is represented hanging from rocks over water” (Arber, pp.192-93). A fine, very fresh copy of this important and beautifully illustrated edition.

BMC V, 524. BSB-Ink. H-104. Early Herbals 11. Essling 1190. HC 1807*; IGI 5677; Klebs 506.11. Nissen BBI 2308. Pellechet 1315. Sander 612. Wellcome 3101. Goff H-69.


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Thaumatographia naturalis.

Amsterdam, Guilielm Blaeu, 1632.


FIRST EDITION. 12mo., (xii) 501 (iii). Roman and Italic letter, woodcut initials and tail-pieces, title page with printer’s device of an orrery. Light age browning, otherwise a good clean copy with C17 annotations, in contemporary English calf, covers triple-ruled in blind, spine remounted, all edges red.

FIRST EDITION of Jonston’s most popular work on “admiranda” or wonders of nature organised into ten categories (heaven, earth, and topics relating to meteors, ‘fossils’ or minerals, plants, birds, quadrupeds, insects and ‘bloodless’ animals, fish, and humans). The work draws heavily from classical sources such as Aristotle, Pliny, and Seneca, but also from the more recent work of Aldrovandi, and in the section on plants includes descriptions of the flora and fauna of the New World, as well as tobacco. Each section is headed by a useful index to its contents, and the work concludes with a poem in praise of Jonston by the Bohemian poet Venceslaus Clemens.

John Jonston (1603 – 1675) emigrated from Poland to Scotland in 1622 and studied natural history at St. Andrew’s for four years. He received the degree of Doctor of Physic from both Leyden and Cambridge. Despite the compact size of Thaumaturgia, his earliest work, its wide range of material prefigures his later, large-scale works on Fish, Insects, Birds, and Trees, made possible by his extensive travel through Europe and access to its libraries, as well as first-hand observation.

Venceslaus Clemens (1589 – 1640?), Protestant and prolific Neo-Latin poet, was forced to leave his native Bohemia after the Battle of White Mountain. His Gustavis, printed the same year as the Thaumatographia, describes the anguish of exile and praises Gustavus Adolphus and the victory of the Swedish Army at the Battle of Breitenfeld, which Clemens credits as saving the Protestant cause in Europe.

Garrison-Morton 287 “A compilation of all the contemporary zoological knowledge”. Wellcome I 3477. Alden II 632/48. Not in Shaaber or Sabin.


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DODOENS, Rembert


A new herball, or historie of plants: their names, natures, operations, & vertues: and that not onely of those which are heere growing in this our countrie of England but of al others also of forraine realms commonly vsed in physicke.

London, Edm. Bollifant, 1595.


4to. pp. (xl), 916, (xlviii). a‐b⁸, c⁴, B‐3P⁸, 3Q². Black letter, some Roman and Italic. Title within ornate typographical border, historiated and floriated woodcut initials, typographical head and tail-pieces and ornaments, occasional early marginalia. Title expertly re-margined, corners of a2 and a few small holes at gutter of the next few leaves restored, light age yellowing, a little soiling in places. A good, clean copy, in handsome modern calf antique, spine and covers ruled in blind.

Third edition (the second printed in England) of the first English version of Dodoens’ celebrated Herbal, translated from French by Henrie Lyte. The work “was a national herbarium devoted to species indigenous to the Flemish provinces. The merit of this book was that rather than proceeding by alphabetical order, as Fuchs had done, Dodoens grouped the plants according to their properties and their reciprocal affinities” (DSB). Henry Lyteʼs English translation was first published in 1578.

Dodoens (1517 – 1585) was the first Flemish botanist to enjoy world wide renown. He was a very successful doctor, physician to the Emperors Maximillian II and Rudolph II and finally Professor of Medicine at Leyden. It was his interest in the medicinal aspects of botany which induced him to write a herbal. A French translation by Charles L’Ecluse appeared very shortly after the original Dutch; Dodoens supervised its progress and took the opportunity to make additions. It forms the basis of the present edition. Lyte (1529 – 1607), after leaving Oxford, travelled extensively in Europe and built a collection of rare plants, which is mentioned by Aubrey. He never published anything original but his translation of Dodoens is of inestimable value. We know from the annotated corrections on Lyte’s working copy, now at the British Library, that he was no mechanical translator, but a painstaking and meticulous scholar who in places introduced his own references and criticisms to the text. Dodoens himself also sent him additional material for inclusion.

The work has three separate indexes: one for the classical Latin names of plants, one for English names, together with a third index “wherein is contained the Nature, Vertues and Dangers of all the Herbs, Trees and Plants, of which is spoken in this present Booke, or Herball”. This last index is essentially a subject index of what plants could do, such as ʻ‘against the bloody flixe”, or “Against Madnesse”, or “to clense and mundifie old rotten ulcers”, with page references to the different plants that would be helpful.

It is difficult to overestimate the influence of Lyte’s work. It was the standard book on herbals and their properties in the English language during the later part of the C16 and exercised considerable influence on both Gerard and Parkinson. So far as we know Lyte was never a physician; Gilman described him as ‘the first of a long line of British amateur Botanists’, but he nevertheless produced a first rate pharmacoepia which must have been invaluable in its day. There are numerous references to plants from the Americas.

STC 6986. ESTC S109768. Pritzel 2345n. Lowndes, II 656. Henrey 112. Not in Wellcome or Durling. Alden 595/21. Arents 19. Arber p. 72-‐‑4 and 106-‐‑8. Rohde p. 93.


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RUEL, Jean

De Natura Stirpium Libri Tres

Basle, in officina Frobeniana, 1537


Folio. pp. [xcii] 666 [ii]. Roman letter, index in Italic, occasional Greek. Printer’s woodcut device on t-p and last, woodcut initials throughout. Age-yellowing, intermittent light foxing (esp. t-p), occasional contemp. marginalia. A very good, well margined copy in contemp. vellum over bds., later black and gold morocco label on spine.

Second edition of this rare and important botanical work – the first general botanical text since the time of Theophrastus – in which Jean Ruel, physician to Francis I, described in detail some 600 plants, as well as a number of species not occurring in the classical texts he drew upon (Theophrastus and Pliny). Ruel also added French names obtained by questioning the peasants and mountaineers during his plant-hunting trips. Divided into three books, the work opens with a dedication to Francis I, followed by a four-page table of contents, and by a very useful eighty-page ‘elenchus copiosissimus’ an alphabetical index of all the species mentioned. The first twenty chapters of the first book contain a general introduction in which elements of botany such as roots, branches, barks, leaves, flowers, germination, grafting, fruits, and seeds, together with their medicinal properties, the variety of colours, and even the smells and flavours of flowers and fruits, are dealt with individually. Next comes a long chapter on nomenclature, followed by numerous chapters of varying length, each devoted to a particular plant. According to the ‘Dictionary of Scientific Biography’, De Natura Stirpium ‘is elegantly written’ and the fact that, instead of a botanical classification, Ruel used alphabetical order, ‘rendered the book of great practical value’. Francis I, the dedicatee of the work and Ruel’s patron, paid the cost of printing. ‘Only a few copies […] can still be found; the rarity of the book is attested by its absence from the libraries of Jussieu and Joseph Decaisne […], both of whom were informed bibliophiles.’

BM STC Ger. C16th p. 760. Adams R 873. Brunet IV p. 1452. Graesse VI p. 188. Pritzel 8850. Dictionary of Scientific Biography 11 p. 594.


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CRESCENZI, Pietro de


Opera di Agricultura. Ne la quale si contiene a che modo si debbe coltivar la terra, la proprieta’ de tutti e frutti, & herbe; la natura de tutti gli animali.

Venice, Bernardino de Viano de Lexona vercellese, for Melchior Sessa, 1536.


8vo. 392 unnumbered ll., A-Z8 2A-2Z8 3A-3B8 +8 (3B8 blank). Roman letter, naturalistic and foliated woodcut initials on five and six lines, some white-on-black smaller, title within beautiful woodcut border, grotesque foliage interlaced with hybrid animals, cat with mouse on upper margin (Sessa’s device), two dragons at base, at A3 verso ‘accipies’ woodcut within floriated and geometrical border, depicting the author teaching students writing; some underlining in contemporary brown ink, text occasionally crossed-out with pencil. Some foxing to edges, mostly on initial and final quires, erased stamp on first two leaves, a good, fresh copy in contemporary vellum, manuscript title in gothic letter on spine, early manuscript notes on turn ins.

Good copy of the Italian translation of the ‘Opus Ruralium Commodum’ by Pietro de’ Crescenzi, one of the most influential mediaeval treatises in agronomy and agriculture. Translated into many languages, the work was widespread in manuscript from the beginning of the 14th century and in printed editions since 1471. The author, born in Bologna around 1233, was trained both in the Dominican schools and Bologna University, gaining extensive knowledge in logic, medicine, natural sciences and law. His career focused on this last field, and after being appointed ‘iudex’ (judge) he received assignments that took him all over Italy for more than thirty years.

During his travels Crescenzi had the chance to visit a great number of rural villas and farms, developing a passion for agronomy and farming. Once retired, he dedicated himself to the project of writing an agronomical treatise in which to convey knowledge and techniques, ancient and modern, theoretical and practical; his efforts gave birth to the ‘Ruralium Commodum’. In his treatise the author often refers to classical and mediaeval authorities, such as Palladio, Varro, Albertus Magnus, Avicenna and the ‘Geoponika’, but he does not hesitate to confute their thesis, adding extensive considerations based upon the practical experience of the many farmers he had known. An interesting aspect of the essay is the public it was conceived for, the 14th century bourgeoisie, especially the class of jurists and notaries who had invested in farms and lands, and needed to obtain a good yield.

The work, divided into twelve books, provides a well-structured analysis of all the aspects of running a farm: having identified all the requirements that a good farm must satisfy to be chosen, it enumerates the different kinds of plants and how to cultivate them. The third book is devoted to fields and their produce, while the fourth, examining in depth the cultivation of vine and the practice of wine-making, constitutes an excellent source for the history of mediaeval enology. Chapters from six to nine analyse trees and fruits, herbs, woods and gardens, at chapter nine starts a dissertation upon animals, husbandry and veterinary, followed by a chapter devoted to hunting and falconry. The practical, original approach of the treatise is demonstrated by the last two chapters, which after summarizing the contents, reorder them according to the monthly and seasonal farming calendar.

A wonderful practical treatise, of great interest for the development of agriculture, enology and farming practice.

Sander 2240. BM STC It. 16 C, p. 203. Adams C, 2931. Dizionario biografico degli italiani, vol. 30, Roma, Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1984. Simon Bibl. Bac. p.35 “Traité des plus intéressants sur l’art de cultiver la vigne et de faire le vin… le livre IV est entièrement consacré à la vigne et au vin.” Biting p. 105 (1564 edn) “The fourth book is devoted to the vine and wines.”


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NIEREMBERG, John Eusebius


Historia Naturae Maxime Peregrinae.

Antwerp, Plantin, Balthasar Moretus, 1635.


FIRST EDITION. Folio pp. (viii) 502 (cvi), last blank, text in double column. Roman letter, some Italic and Greek. Title in red and black with Plantin’s finely engraved device, woodcut compass device on verso of last, woodcut initials and tail pieces. Text illustrated by 69 beautiful woodcuts, 54 of animals and 15 of plants, often signed C.I., autograph “Labouritte 1778” on pastedown, the initials ‘M M’ with shelfmark beneath, early C18th library stamp “Ex Musaeo J. P Borin” beneath that, contemporary manuscript ex libris “R. L. M. Colleg soc.tis Jesu Mons” at head of title page. General even browning (as usual), some light mostly marginal water staining in places, the odd spot or mark. A good copy, in contemporary vellum over boards, stubbs from an early antiphonal leaf, corners and extremities a little worn.

First and only edition of Niermberg’s important and encyclopaedic natural history, devoted for the most part to the flora and fauna of the New World, and particularly Mexico. There had been earlier accounts of the natural history of the New World, mostly in passages of travel books, but this was the first attempt to order them, and can properly be described as the first American Natural History. Many species are described or illustrated here for the first time, and in supplying the indigenous names for the plants and animals described, the work is an important linguistic source for the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. There is also much information on the culture and rites of the Aztecs and Incas, and of Mexico before the conquest.

Nieremberg’s sources are various but it seems certain that much of this work is derived from manuscripts brought back by Francisco Hernandez, who had made a large compendium of Aztec flora and fauna, using a group of Aztec artists and draughtsmen. This work is all the more important in that the original drawings were destroyed along with a large part of the famous library at the Escorial, and perhaps the charm of the boldly stylised illustrations reflect their manuscript origin. The woodcuts were made by the Flemish artist Christoffel Jegher who worked as Ruben’s engraver and extensively for the Plantin-Moretus publishing house. They include the raccoon, rattlesnake, dodo, toucan, birds of paradise, water lily, coconut tree, cactus, iguana, amongst others, a great deal of them in their first representation in a printed work.

The text is scientifically organised by genus: plants, fish, birds, minerals etc. with much technical observation of animals, minerals, and plants and their properties. There is also a chapter on tobacco and its therapeutic use. The book ends with two fascinating chapters on Nieremberg’s observations on miraculous events in Europe and the Holy Land, followed by an extensive and very useful index. Nieremberg was a noted theologian and prolific writer, born of German parents in Madrid in 1595, who taught humanities and natural history for sixteen years at the Imperial College, having joined the Society of Jesus in 1614. His writings on occult philosophy and natural magic were influential. The book is dedicated to Gaspar de Gusman, Count of Olivares, Grand Chancellor to the Indies.

Palau 190738. Brunet IV pp. 76 “on y trouve des particularités importantes qui n’étaient pas encores connues alors.” Sabin 55268 “the greater part of this work relates to the natural history of Mexico, or New Spain, it also contains some particulars relative to Mexico before the conquest”. Wellcome 4546. Nissen (2 vol.) 2974. Arents 3278. Pritzel 6701. Alden 635/94. Not in JFB.


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Le Grand Herbier, contenantes les qualitez vertus et proprietez des herbes, arbres, gommes, semences, huyles et pierres precieuses.

Paris, Alain Lotrian, c. 1530.


4to. ff (xxii) 176. Double column, small lettre bâtarde, white on black initials. Title in red and black within typographical border with two woodcuts of plants and large decorative initial, printer’s large device (faded) on verso of last, more than 300 woodcut illustrations, almost all of plants. Title page a little browned with slight marginal fraying, light oil stain in final gathering, two holes on last leaf affecting a few letters and printer’s device on verso, general age yellowing. A not unused but still good copy of a famously rare work in c. 1900 vellum over boards, attractive bookplate 1934 on pastedown. Quaritch pencil collation at end, all edges red in slipcase.

Rare and early edition of an anonymous French herbal based on the Antidotarium of Matthaeus Platearius, and likely a shared printing by Lotrian, Janot, Petit and Le Noir. There are probably three earlier editions: two towards the end of the incunable period and another by Nyverd c. 1520. There is some variation in the illustrations but the texts are substantially the same and none is readily obtainable. The twenty-two preliminary leaves comprise a very detailed table of contents, an explanation of obscure terms, and a page index. The text, following a short prologue, is arranged in alphabetical order of plants (usually illustrated) followed by their description and an account of their medical uses.

The work is essentially a pharmacopoeia, inspired by Avicenna, Rhazes, Constantine, and Hippocrates. It is designed for remedial purposes by country doctors, practical apothecaries and laymen. It also draws on the writings of Jewish and Arab physicians and scholars of the Middle Ages. The cuts, accurate and attractive, are for the most part reduced versions of those appearing in the first edition. Here they are printed in good, clear impression throughout, in a hand similar to Gart of Grunninger. They were clearly addressed to a popular readership.

Although similar in scope to the better known German herbals, the Grand Herbier or Arbolayre is textually different, in essence a French imitation of the ‘Secrets of Salerno’. It is the only herbal to have originated in France and unsurprisingly almost all early editions are now known in only a handful of copies. Very few scientific ‘Gothiques’ are obtainable.

BM STC Fr. C16 has later edition only. Brunet I 378, see Fairfax Murray I 226. Not in Mortimer, Harvard or Durling. Becher p.41 et seq., Wellcome I other edns. Hunt p.47. “The work is of special interest to British botanists since it was translated into English and published in 1526, as the ‘Grete Herbal.’ Arber p.24.


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