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    Sale 2013

    Important Scientific Books: The Richard Green Library

    17 June 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 325

    TRITHEIM, Johann (1462-1516). Polygraphiae libri sex. - Clavis polygraphiae. [Basel: Michael Furter and Adam Petri] for Johann Haselberg, July 1518.

    Price Realised  

    TRITHEIM, Johann (1462-1516). Polygraphiae libri sex. - Clavis polygraphiae. [Basel: Michael Furter and Adam Petri] for Johann Haselberg, July 1518.

    2 parts in one volume, 2o (284 x 190 mm). First title and some pages printed in red and black, each title with elaborate woodcut illustration, showing the author presenting his book to Emperor Maximilian and a bearded man presenting keys (see below), woodcut initials, with blanks b6 and r6 (some minor marginal dampstaining at end). Rebound in calf, old sides laid down.

    FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST WORK ON CRYPTOGRAPHY AND CIPHERS. Tritheim abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Spannheim, exerted considerable influence on Hermetic thought of the period. The codes he invented and described in this book, notably the "Ave Maria" cipher which takes up the bulk of the work (each word representing a letter, with consecutive tables making it possible to so arrange a code that it will read as a prayer), and the "square table", a sophisticated system of coding using multiple alphabets, were used for centuries. Because of ecclesiastical disapproval the work was not published until after the author's death. The remarkable title page is composed of a 7 woodcut blocks, showing the author presenting his book and a bearded monk presenting a pair of keys to the Emperor Maximilian (see Muther 1775, citing an earlier(?) state of the block in Tritheim, Liber octo quaestionum, 1515, with a scroll in place of keys), this block is within historiated woodcut borders of scholars holding emblems of science, arms of Maximilian and three other armorial shields at corners, and a reclining portrait of Trithemius himself at bottom. Adams states that the book was printed in Oppenheim, but a document found in Basel proves that it was printed by Furter and Petri in Basel. Adams T-979; Kahn, The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing. New York: Macmillan, 1967, pp. 134-35.


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