RABANUS MAURUS (c.784-856). De sermonum proprietate, sive Opus de universo. [Strassburg: R-Press type 1 (Johann Mentelin and Adolf Rusch), c. 1473, not after 1474].
Royal 2 (402 x 280mm). Collation: [1-210 3-48 5-610 78 86 98 10-1110 128 13-1410 158 16-1710 18-198] (1/1 blank, 1/2r author's letter to Louis the German, 1/2v author's letter to Haymo, Bishop of Halberstadt, 1/3r chapter index, 1/4v text, 4-8 books V-VIII, 9-11 books IX-XI, 12-14 books XII-XVI, 15-17 books XVII-XX, 18-19 books XXI-XXII, 19/7-8 blank). 167 leaves (of 170, without the first and final 2 blanks), folio 4/8r unprinted and marked 'virgo' by a contemporary hand. 56 lines, double column. 10-line initial space opening text, 7-8 line initials opening each book, 2-3-line initials elsewhere, in red, occasionally in black ink, paragraph marks and capital strokes in red, headline added in a contemporary hand. Type: 1:103R. (Washed, discreet repairs at hinges, some marginal spotting, a few tiny tears in text block, an occasional small wormhole, fo. 11/7r ink soiled.) 18th-century calf-backed buff paper boards, blindstamped spine label, vellum MS leaf pastedowns retained, the front pastedown from a 12th-century Gradual with musical notation written in north-eastern Italy or southern Austria, the rear pastedown from an 11th-century liturgical manuscript with plainchant notation, modern half brown morocco slipcase (resewn, some repairs at head and foot of spine). Provenance: contemporary annotations; Allan Bluestein (sale Sotheby's, 7 April 1976, lot 62).
FIRST EDITION of what was long considered the earliest printed book on medicine. One of the great medieval encyclopedias, the De universo contains chapters of specific medical interest in book V, chapter 18, and numerous chapters on related subjects of the natural world such as plants and herbs, rocks and minerals, birds, beasts, fish, and the elements. Rabanus Maurus had been a pupil of Alciun, 'who was responsible for the introduction of learning into Germany' (Stillwell); he became abbot of Fulda and archbishop of Mainz. De universo, his magnum opus, and his great work continues the tradition of the Etymologie of Isidore of Seville.
Not only has this edition been considered the first printed book on medicine, it was also believed to represent the first use of Roman type in Germany. Recent research, however, strongly suggests that the traditional date of this edition, 'before 1467', based on an inscription in the BN copy at Paris, is mistaken (possibly owing to a transposition of the final two digits of the date). The next earliest date associated with it is a purchase inscription in the copy at the Wellcome Institute, London, dated 1474. This accords with other firm dates associated with the R-Press. Adolf Rusch was once considered the printer of the 'R-Press',and his initials were thought to form the distinctive 'R' in its font. Rusch and his father-in-law Johann Mentelin are identified in a document dated 1478 as the printers of an edition of Vincent of Beauvais (Goff B-534) printed in the second type of the R-Press, but Rusch is not known to have printed independently of Mentelin (cf. Christie's Doheny I, lot 16). Manuscript precedent for the 'R' letter form exists in a writing book of 1436 at Munich University Library (see note in BMC). BMC I, 60 (IC. 638); BSB H-393; Garrison and Morton, 5th ed., 2190 (described as 'the earliest known printed book to include a section dealing with medicine'; Goff R-1; HC *13669; Klebs 524.1; Osler, Inc. Medica 1; Stillwell, Awakening 491.