AGRICOLA, Georgius (1494-1555). Vom Bergkwerk xii Bcher darin alle Empter, Instrument, Bezeuge, unnd alles zu disem Handel gehörig. Translated by Philip Bech. Basel: Hieronymus Froben and Nicolaus Bischoff, 1557.
2o (311 x 203 mm). Gothic type, a few words in Greek. Translator's 3-leaf dedication to Christoph Weitmosern zu Wingthel, penultimate errata leaf with colophon on verso. Printer's woodcut device on title and on verso of last leaf (recto blank), over 270 woodcuts in text, many full-page, by Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch after Blasius Weffring, the full sheet of woodcuts intended to be cut up and pasted to compass cut on p. 104 (i4v) inserted intact between i4 and i5. Woodcut ornamental initials, opening text initial from a different, historiated, series. (Double-page plate cropped, small stain to a4 obscuring a few letters on recto, some light marginal dampstains, heavier toward the end, very minor marginal worming to last 50 leaves, title and preliminary leaves slightly darkened.) 18th-century German? sheep over pasteboard, spine gilt with red morocco lettering-piece, gilt arms on upper cover with later gilt stamped initials A.G.V. T.Z.Y., edges stained red (very worn, spine defective at tail, joints split).
FIRST EDITION IN GERMAN OF De re metallica, "THE FIRST SYSTEMATIC TREATISE ON MINING AND METALLURGY" (PMM) and one of the earliest and most important Renaissance illustrated books on technology. Georgius Agricola (Georg Bauer), humanist scholar and town physician of St. Joachimstal (present-day Slovakia), the center in the 16th century of one of the most important mining districts in Europe, studied not only his patients' "ailments but also their life, labor and equipment. Day and night he visited the mines and the smoky smelting houses, and soon he had an excellent knowledge of mining and metallurgy" (DSB). His first brief work on the subject was published in 1530 (Bermannus sive de re metallica dialogus) and became an immediate success, largely thanks to a letter of recommendation contributed by Erasmus. After returning to his native town of Chemnitz, Agricola devoted 15 years to the preparation of this full-scale treatise on geology, mining and metallurgy. Its publication was delayed first by political events and then by the black plague of 1552-1553, and Agricola died before seeing his magnum opus through the press. "By far the most authoritative account of South German technology... the De Re Metallica embraces everything connected with the mining industry and metallurgical processes, including administration, prospecting, the duties of officials and companies and the manufacture of glass, sulphur and alum" (PMM 79). Book VI is especially important for its descriptions of 16th-century mining technologies, including the use of water power for crushing ore and improved suction pumps that were developed in response to the need for better ventilation as mines were sunk ever deeper underground.
The success of the first edition, published in 1556, inspired Froben and Bischoff to issue this vernacular edition within a year. In his dedication, the translator Philip Bech apologizes for the deficiences of his translation, which he attributes to lack of time and his inexperience in translating from Latin. The appealing illustrations were printed from the blocks of the Latin edition and are integrated into the text with equal care. Agricola's work remained the standard textbook on the subject for two centuries, and, according to DSB, Deutsch's woodcuts "were used for 101 years in seven editions". This first German edition is far scarcer than its Latin predecessor. Hoover 22; Wellcome I, 70.