The Only Elzevir Edition, and One of the Press' Masterpieces


(Lugduni Batavorum [Leyden]: Ex Officina Elzeviriana, 1635). 127 x 70 mm. (5 x 2 3/4"). Three volumes. Edited by Jean de Laet.

VERY PRETTY 18TH CENTURY RED MOROCCO, GILT, covers with French fillet border, raised bands with gilt lettering, spine compartments with central floral sprig framed with curling brackets terminating in ivy leaves, spray of daisies on either side, gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Woodcut headpieces, tailpieces, and initials (some of them historiated), engraved title page in first volume, printer's device in second and third volumes, author's medallion portrait facing the beginning of the text. Willems 428; Rahir 420-21: Dibdin II, 323-24. ◆Spines gently and evenly sunned, joints a little rubbed (one with a thin crack beginning at the top), boards with trivial soiling; occasional mild foxing, but a nearly fine copy, clean and fresh internally, in equally well-preserved, and pleasing bindings.

This is the only Elzevir edition of one of the great works of antiquity and, according to Willems, one of the masterpieces of the famed Dutch press. In the same vein, Dibdin tells is that "its beauty is a theme of extraordinary commendation by the French bibliographers." Pliny the Elder's famous "Natural History" is an encyclopedic compendium, in 37 books, of ancient knowledge, particularly about animals, vegetables, and minerals. However, the author, an admiral of the Roman fleet who died in the eruption of Vesuvius (79 A.D.), does not confine himself to studying only the natural world, but also collects information on human inventions and institutions, ranging widely over the arts and sciences. His section on painting, for example, is a key source for our understanding of ancient frescos, while his four geographical books preserve a great deal of topographical and sometimes historical information. Our Belgian editor Jean de Laet (d. 1649) was not only a classical scholar, but also a geographer who wrote a number of important works in his field on topics ranging from Brazil to Persia to Belgium itself. Louis Elzevir began the family publishing dynasty in the 1580s, when he set up as a bookseller and publisher in Leyden. Five of his seven sons became printers; the most distinguished of these was Bonaventure (1583-1652), who opened his Leyden press in 1608, and took his nephew Abraham into partnership in 1626. The press enjoyed its greatest success during their nearly 30-year collaboration, becoming especially noted for their fine editions of the classics, like the present item. Britannica notes that "their small editions in 12mo, 16mo and 24mo, for elegance of design, neatness, clearness and regularity of type, and beauty of paper, cannot be surpassed." If the bindings here are not irresistible, they come very close to being so.

Price: $2,500.00