An Especially Fine Copy of one of the Most Famous "Cabinets of Wonder"


(Dordrecht: Abraham Blussé en Zoon, 1771). 530 x 355 mm. (20 3/4 x 14"). 2 p.l., XXXII, 67 pp.; 1 p.l. XXXIV, 70 pp. Two volumes bound in one. Translated into Dutch by P. L. S. Muller. First Dutch Edition. No. 83 OF 99 COPIES for subscribers, validated by the signature of notary P. J. van Steenbergen, Dordrecht.

Handsome contemporary Dutch mottled calf, gilt, covers with elaborate floral border accented at corners by bird tools, central panel framed by cresting floral roll, oblique volutes and floral sprigs at corners, central arabesque, raised bands, spine gilt in compartments with elegant bird centerpiece within a lozenge of small tools, floral sprays at corners, red morocco label, marbled endpapers (three corners expertly restored). Extra engraved title page with delicately hand-colored allegorical frame and 92 SUPERB HAND-COLORED ENGRAVED PLATES (without the portrait called for by Nissen, but hardly ever seen). Engraved title with neat ink ownership inscription of "Max. Von Sternburg, 1830" below text. Landwehr 97; Nissen ZBI 2229; DSB VII, 411ff; Graesse IV, 35. Front joint with half-inch crack at head and in middle of bottom panel, one corner a little bumped and with short wormtrail, rear board faintly chafed, extremities lightly rubbed, but the imposing binding very solid and generally well preserved. Isolated marginal smudges, other trivial imperfections, but AN EXTREMELY FINE COPY, quite clean, fresh, and bright internally, with brilliant colors and generous margins.

With plates from the first edition printed in Nuremberg in 1751-67, this monumental work documents the "Cabinets of Wonders" of some of the leading naturalists of the day. Popular from the mid-16th through the 18th centuries, "Wunderkammern" were private collections of exotic items--animal, vegetable, and mineral specimens as well as manmade objects--that can be considered precursors to the modern museum. Books like the present one were intended to make these treasures available to a wider audience. For his "Selected Delights of Nature," German paleontologist, painter, engraver, and art dealer Georg Knorr (1705-61) made use of his personal collection, as well as those of his scientific circle, for a work he began in 1751 and worked on until his death in 1761, after which it was completed by his heirs. He drew heavily on the extensive collection of wealthy Nuremberg physician and naturalist Christoph Jacob Trew (1695-1769), as indicated by the wording "Ex. Museo Excell. D.D. Chris. Jac. Trew" at the bottom of a number of plates. Landwehr notes that "the Dutch edition of this work, one of the few books published with numbered copies, contains really magnificent plates." These illustrations depict a range of natural specimens: corals and seaweeds, seashells, fish, sea urchins and sea anemones, crustaceae, starfish, birds, butterflies, spiders, quadrupeds, reptiles, amphibians, and metals. According to DSB, "It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the beauty of some of Knorr's illustrations exceeds that of their models and that in all cases the artist's eye has transformed neutral, natural objects into permanent, formal aspects of humanism. The detail and accuracy of Knorr's engravings not only made possible zoological classification but firmly established the distinction between fossils of organic origin and sports of nature." The accompanying text is contemplative and anecdotal rather than scientific, aimed less at a scholarly audience than toward an educated (and wealthy) reader who would appreciate its aesthetic appeal. Our copy was once owned by such a person, art collector Baron Maximilian Speck von Sternburg (1776-1856), a wool merchant who amassed an impressive collection of Old Masters that he displayed to the public at a specially built gallery on his estate, Schloss Lützschena.

Price: $42,500.00