The Main Chemical Textbooks of Medieval Europe. With Extraordinary Provenance

Geber [Jābir ibn Ḥayyān] (13th c.)

Alchemiae Gebri Arabis philosophi solertissimi, Libri cum Reliquis

Bern: Mathias Apiarius (Biener) for Johann Petreius, 1545


Quarto: 21 x 16.5 cm.

Bound with:

Geber [Jābir ibn Ḥayyān] (13th c.); Braccesco, Giovanni (1494 –after 1561); Llull, Ramond (?1232-1316)

De Alchemia Dialogi II. Quorum prior, Genuinam libroru[u] Gebri sententiam, de industria ab authore celatam, & figurato sermone inuolutam retegit, & certis argumentis probat ; Alter Raimundi Lullij Maioricani, Mysteria in lucem producit ; Quibus praemittuntur propositiones centum uiginti nouem, idem argumentum compendiosa brevitate complectentes.

Nuremberg: Johann Petreius, 1548

Quarto: 21 x 16.5 cm. I. [16], 302, [2] p. aa-bb4, a-z4, A-P4. II. [127] p. A-Q4

SECOND EDITION of the first collection. FIRST LATIN EDITION of the second collection. I. [16], 302, [2] p. aa-bb4, a-z4, A-P4. II. [127] p. A-Q4

A fantastic sammelband, bound in contemporary, blind-tooled alum-tawed half-pigskin over quarter-sawn wooden boards, with one clasp and both catches present. The text is in excellent, crisp condition throughout. In the first work there is an elaborate woodcut title-page border (with the small stamp of the Courland Society for Literature and Art in the blank margin); the text is illustrated with 16 fine woodcuts of alchemical apparatus and alchemists at work. Provenance: This book has excellent provenance. There are two magnificent woodcut bookplates on the front and rear pastedowns. The first is of that of the mint-master and apothecary Michael Aschenbrenner (1549-1605); the second is that of his wife Christina (born Musculus.) Both plates are dated 1588 and bear the monogram MCB (Warnecke 26, 59 & 60.) THESE ARE THE OLDEST KNOWN BERLIN BOOKPLATES and Michael’s is "THE OLDEST BOOKPLATE OF A GERMAN PHARMACIST." (Hein-Black 16; cf. also Adlung-U 403 & 412 and H. funds, Michael Aschenbrenner, Berlin 1925th.)

The fine woodcuts, in the manner of Wechtlin, are highly interesting as they show furnaces, distilling apparatus, and other laboratory equipment used at the beginning of the 16th century. They include: an aludel (a subliming pot used in alchemy and chemistry), alembics (alchemical stills consisting of two vessels connected by a tube, used for distillation), apparatus for the sublimation of magnesia and tutia (zinc oxide), vessels for coagulation, and a number of furnaces, including an athanor and furnaces for calcination and sublimation. There is also a fine woodcut of alchemist as well as depictions of workers configuring various apparatus.

I. “Alchemiae Libri” (1545)

Second edition of this extremely important and early collection of alchemical writings. The identity of Geber with the eighth-century alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan is still a matter of dispute. “Even on the slender basis of our present knowledge, Jabir appears already as a very great personality, one of the greatest in mediaeval science.”–Sarton, I, p. 532. Certainly, De Alchimia and the other works of the Geber corpus were of the greatest influence on Western chemistry, and “whether they be translations or elaborations, they represent the amount of Arabic chemical knowledge made available to Latin reading people toward the end of the thirteenth century…they represent the best Latin knowledge on chemistry in that period.”–Sarton, II, p. 1044.

The present collection contains four treatises by Geber/Jabir ibn Hayyan: 1. Summa perfectionis. 2. Liber de investigatione perfectionis (the earliest description of the preparation of nitric acid and aqua regia). 3. Liber de inventione veritatis sive perfectionis. 4. Liber fornacum (a practical text on chemical operations).

“We find in them remarkably sound views on methods of chemical research; a theory on the geologic formation of metals; the so-called sulphur-mercury theory of metals (the six metals differ essentially because of different proportions of sulphur and mercury in them); preparation of various substances (e.g., basic lead carbonate; arsenic and antimony from their sulphides). Jabir deals also with various applications, e.g., refinement of metals, preparation of steel, dyeing of cloth and leather, varnishes to water-proof cloth and protect iron, use of manganese dioxide in glass-making, use of iron pyrites for writing in gold, distillation of vinegar to concentrate acetic acid. He observed the imponderability of magnetic force.”–Sarton, I, p. 532.

This collection also contains the following texts of which at least four are printed for the first time: 5. Roger Bacon’s Speculum Alchemiae. 6. Richard of Wendover’s Correctorium Alchemiae. 7. Rosarius minor, de Alchemia by an unknown author. 8. Khalid ibn Yazid’s Liber Secretorum Alchemiae. 9. Hermes Trismegistus’ Tabula Smaragdina. 10. Hortolanus’ commentary on the Tabula Smaragdina.

A contemporary note in a copy of the 1545 ed. once offered for sale by E.P. Goldschimdt (Cat. 165, item 19) stated that the manuscript used by the printer Petri for this edition came from the library of Conrad Gesner.

D.S.B., VII, p. 42–His “importance for the history not only of alchemy but also of science in general, and for the intellectual history of Islam, has by no means been sufficiently examined”–(& see the full article for more on his individual writings). Duveen, p. 11–“one of the most valuable early collections of texts.” Ferguson, I, p. 301–(not in Young collection). Darmstaedter used this edition to prepare his Die Alchemie des Geber (1922).

II. “De Alchemia Dialogi II” (1548)

This is the first combined edition of these two texts, both translated from the Italian by Guglielmo Grataroli. The prefatory "propositiones" are headed: “Expositio librorum Gebri et Raimundi [Lulli]”. The first dialogue, written by the Brescian Giovanni Braccesco, “Dialogus primus, veram et genuinam librorum Gebri sententiam explicans, Demogorgon Geber” (p. [11-112]) was first published in Venice in 1544 under title “La Espositione di Geber Philosopho”. The second work, “Lignum Vitae, Demogorgon Rymundus” (p. [113-127]) was first published in Rome in 1542 under title: "Il legno della vità”. Although various components of these works are ascribed to Raymond Llull, “The ascription is improbable." (Mellon) “The printer, Petreius, in a note to the reader, alludes to his recent editions of Geber and Llull, whose hidden secrets these dialogues will now disclose… The leading idea of Braccesco, if it be his own, is that mercurial water the gold of the philosophers, and mercury may all be produced from iron, which is that stone sold for a cheap price to which alchemical tracts constantly refer.”(Thorndike)

I. VD 16, J 4; Adams G 300 (under Geber); Brüning 232; Ferguson I, 302; Wellcome I, 2716; Darmstaedter, Geber 11; see Duveen 11 (edition of 1541). II. VD 16, ZV 2311; Adams J 7 (under Jâbir); Brüning 246; Ferguson I, 122 f.; Duveen 98; Wellcome I, 1031; see Mellon 18 (Lyon 1548), not in Darmstaedter