52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 43: a 16th century metallurgy bound by a 19th century professor

Wednesday 4 April 2012
The front cover of the heavy duty 19th century binding found on the 1561 Basel edition of Georg Agricola's De re metallica (AlcB61AG.SwB).
Signature of Hans Rudolf Manuel.

This week’s binding post is a heavy-weight from the Alchemy Collection. It is found on the 1561 Officina Frobeniana printing of Georg Agricola’s De re metallica libri XII. This book is the second edition of Agricola’s masterpiece on mining, metallurgy and engineering which features woodcuts by the master engraver Hans Rudolf Manuel.

A full page engraving (leaf m4r) from the 1561 De re metallica (AlcB61AG.SwB).

This book was previously owned and rebound in the 19th century by Matthew Forster Heddle, Professor of Chemistry at St Andrews until 1880. Heddle was educated in Edinburgh and held his post at St Andrews until he was invited to report on some gold mines in South Africa. Upon his return he began assembling a massive mineral collection (now found at the National Museum of Scotland) to help support his study. The rebinding of this seminal mineralogical work, then, was done by an amateur who was a highly skilled academic and collector with a real passion for his field.

Detail of the fore-edge of AlcB61AG.SwB.

It has been rebound in 19th century calf over heavy wooden boards. The cornerpieces and centrepieces of both boards have been raised and are decorated with gold and blind tooling. The title has been stamped in gold on the front cover centrepiece as well as the spine, and there is gold detailing on the board edges and turn-ins. The book also features contemporary marbled endpapers and its fore-edges have been painted red.

Title page of AlcB61AG.SwB.

This book has the ownership inscriptions of Professor Antoine Halley and Professor John Robinson (most likely who Heddle purchased the book from) at the head of the title page (see right), which pre-date this rebinding. The book was purchased in development of an Alchemical Collection by Professor John Read (1884-1963) sometime in the early 20th century.

This is a heavy duty binding for a very impressive work. It is hard, durable, and exudes the importance of the work within.


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