CONRAD VON MEGENBERG (1309-1374). Buch der Natur. Augsburg: Johann Bämler, 19 August 1478.
Chancery 2° (277 x 194mm). Collation: [1-28 3-910 108 116 12-1410 15-178 18-2610 27-288 29-3010 31-328] (1/1-2 blank, 1/3r register, 1/5r blank, 1/5v woodcut, 1/6r 17-line incipit printed in red, text, 32/6r colophon, 32/6v-8 blank). 292 (of 296 leaves, 1/5 and 15/7 in facsimile, and without first and final blank leaves); 5/1 and 8/7 supplied from another copy. 28 lines. Type: 1b:140G. 10 (of 12, 2 in facsimile) full-page woodcuts, FULLY COLOURED BY A CONTEMPORARY HAND, woodcut Maiblumen initials (BMC set 1a) opening each book, those to book 10 with colour wash, lombard initials. Bifolium 8/3.8 printed on a royal half-sheet. (Occasional light stain or soiling, 1/7,8 and 16/3.7 rehinged, a few short marginal tears.) Contemporary Augsburg binding of blindstamped calf over thick wooden boards, tooled with palmette, rosette and "o maria" tools [Schunke Schwenke-Sammlung Schrift 341=K143, without fore-edge clasps (rebacked, somewhat worn, particularly at spine, top cord broken at upper hinge); modern tan morocco-backed folding box. Provenance: occasional 16th-century annotations -- Vienna, Bundesdenkmalamt (stamps on pastedowns) -- Juan Carlos Ahumada, Buenos Aires (booklabel, stamps on flyleaves; sale Christie's NY, 29 October 1992, lot 21).
SECOND EDITION of the first compendium on the natural world printed in the German language. The lively full-page woodcuts were THE FIRST PRINTED BOTANICAL AND ZOOLOGICAL ILLUSTRATIONS when they appeared in the first edition three years earlier, also printed by Bämler. Bämler used them again in 1481, and all other 15th-century editions derive from them.
The Buch der Natur is the work of the polymath Conrad von Megenberg. He took Thomas of Cantimpré's De natura rerum as his starting point, translating it into German and considerably augmenting and enlarging it; Conrad himself states that he has increased its material by one-third. He set out to provide a compendium of knowledge of all God's creation, and treats of astronomy, meterology, human anatomy, zoology, botany, ornithology, herpitology, metals, stones and minerals, and even mythical beasts and monsters. He gives medical uses for many plants and minerals, and the work often functioned as a pharmacology. Conrad also explicates the allegorical meaning of the natural world as an aid to preachers, and even relates some areas to contemporary political issues. Its utility and popularity are evident in the 100 surviving manuscripts and six 15th-century printed editions.
Only one other copy, imperfect, has sold in Anglo-American auctions in the past century, and no copy is recorded in German auctions in over 50 years. ISTC lists 16 institutional copies, at least 4 of which are imperfect. No copy in Great Britain and only two in the USA. H *4042; Klebs 300.2; Polain(B) 1151; Davies, Murray German 124 (imperfect); BSB-Ink. K-45; Schreiber 2779; Goff C-843.