SEBA, Albertus (1665-1736). Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio et iconibus artificiosissimis expressio, per universam physices historiam... [description exacte des principales curiositez naturelles du magnifique cabinet...]. Amsterdam: Janssonius van Waesberge, & J. Wetsteen, & William Smith (vols. 1 and 2), Janssonius van Waesberge (vol. 3) and H.C. Arksteus, H. Merkus and Petrus Schouten (vol. 4), 1734-1765.
4 volumes, large 2o (510 x 340 mm). Engraved frontispiece after L.F. Dubourg by P. Tanjé, portrait of Seba after J.M. Quinkard by J. Houbraken, 5 head-pieces by Tanjé and 449 etched plates, including 175 double-page, by P. Tanjé, A Van der Laan, F. de Bakker, A. van Buysen, de la Croix, J. Folkema, W. Jongman, F. Morellon, K.D. Ptter, J. Punt and J. van der Speyk, ALL WITH FINE CONTEMPORARY HAND-COLORING, THE FIRST PLATE IN EACH VOLUME SIGNED IN MANUSCRIPT BY THE COLORIST J. FORTUYN ("J. Fortuÿn f. Hague Com[itum]") (occasional light spotting, several plates with occasional pale marginal dampstaining). Text in Latin and French, half-titles in each volume in French, Latin titles printed in red and black with hand-colored vignettes (some scattered spotting, volume II with unobtrusive marginal creasing). Contemporary Dutch mottled calf, the covers gilt-panelled with outer gilt dentelle border and large central ornament, the spines richly gilt in eight compartments, with seven raised bands, gilt-lettered on red and green morocco lettering pieces, edges gilt (some light wear). Provenance: contemporary ink notation "79" on fly leaf in each volume.
FIRST EDITION, THE FRENCH AND LATIN TEXT ISSUE. A SUBERB COPY IN CONTEMPORARY BINDING WITH EXCEPTIONAL CONTEMPORARY COLORING
Seba's "Cabinet of Curiosities" stands as one of the eighteenth-century's greatest natural history achievements, and remains one of the most prized natural-history books of any period. Seba, a German-born apothecary and a wealthy member of the Dutch East India Company, practiced in Amsterdam where this collection of specimens gained international fame. His enormous private collection, gathered during his travels to the East and West and heralded by contemporaries as one of Amsterdam's essential sights, provided Seba with a wealth of material from which later to create his Raritätkammeren. In 1717, his collection of fantastic oddities was sold for a vast sum to Peter the Great of Russia. Unable to suppress his mania, Seba again began to collect and to contrive to publish a record of his passion. Towards this end, Seba contacted the publisher Janssonius van Waesberge, who went into partnership with J. Wetsteen and W. Smith for the project.
A commercial enterprise from the begining, the Thesaurus was preceded by a detailed prospectus printed on the same quality paper used for the book and in the same type. At this time, the plates had been engraved and the text of the first volume set, making possible precise calculation of printing costs. Subscribers received a 30 discount contingent on a deposit which the publishers could use to finance their endeavor.
The resulting work collected, according to the prospectus, "an excellent collection of various leaves, fruits, roots, etc. which have been dissected to illustrate their structure; strange and exotic plants; rare animals, in particular, winged ones such as flying dogs, cats, rats, mice, squirrels and other singular creatures... exotic and beautifully marked snakes, lizards, crocodiles... beautiful shells, conches, starfish, marine plants, corals, sea spiders... rare insects which were gathered from all corners of the earth at great cost and pains." This immense collocation of subjects is popular also for its illustrations of monsters and freaks of nature, including seven-headed hydra and some rather unspeakable subjects which resulted most likely from vivisection. The text in the first two volumes was written by Seba himself, and after his death in 1736 the collection was auctioned in order to raise funds to continue publishing. The work was continued by H. Boerhaave, H.D. Graubius, P. Massuet and P. van Musschenbroek. Boerhaave, highly-respected professor of Leyden University, had praised the undertaking in the prospectus by declaring the book unequalled. Of particular importance in the later volumes was the work on fishes by P. Artedi who worked at the recommendation of Linneaus (he himself declined the opportunity to participate).
The present set contains the plates colored by J. Fortuÿn who was also commissioned to color the copy acquired for the library of the Stadtholder William V, Prince of Orange. Fortuÿn's original invoices for that set, dated 1767, are in the archives of the Royal Library, the Hague, recording a charge of 160 florins per volume. Only the first plate in the fourth volume of the Prince's copy is signed, whereas the present copy has Fortuÿn's signature on the first plate in each volume.
The present set also contains the date 1769 on the colophon at ******v in volume III with a blank label pasted over the last two figures. The copy described by Landwehr is similarly corrected.
Copenhagen/Anker 454; Fine Bird Books, p.106; Landwehr 178; Nissen ZBI 3793; Nissen BBI 1825; Pritzel 8562. (4)