Gesner's Animal History, Complete and Uniformly Bound

Gesner, Conrad. Historiae animalium liber primus (- liber V).

Frankfurt/Main, (Wechel für) Cambier & Zürich, Christoph Froschauer, 1585-1604 (lib. I-IV) & 1587 (lib. V).

Folio (ca. 26 x 39 cm). 5 vols. bound in 3.

I: De quadrupedibus viviparis. Ed. secunda. Frankfurt, Cambier, 1602. 20 ff., 967 pp. with 125 woodcuts.

II: De quadrupedibus oviparis. Ed. secunda. Frankfurt, Wechel for Cambier, 1586. 4 ff., 119 pp. with 19 woodcuts.

III: De avium natura. Nunc denuo recognitus. Frankfurt, Wechel for Cambier, 1585. 6 ff., 806 pp. with 222 woodcuts, 13 ff.

IV: De piscium & aquatilium animantium natura. Ed. secunda. Frankfurt, Cambier, 1604. 20 ff., 1052, 30 pp. with 616 woodcuts, final blank leaf.

V: De serpentium natura. Zurich, Froschauer, 1587. 6 ff., 85 pp., 1 blank leaf, 11 numbered ff. with 30 woodcuts.

With a total of 4 title vignettes and more than 1000 woodcuts (some page-sized). Contemporary brown full calf with floral and ornamental cover borders stamped in black between rules; all volumes rebacked.


The fundamental zoological work of the Renaissance, "an encyclopedia of contemporary knowledge, intended to replace not only medieval compilations but even Aristotle's work of the same title" (PMM). For nearly two centuries it survived as the standard reference book; "even Georges Cuvier later delighted in recognizing its enduring interest" (DSB) - a success story also attributable to the fact that the newer, systematic publications of John Ray (1693) and Linné (1735) were not illustrated. "Like contemporary herbals, and some earlier works on zoology, Gesner's encyclopaedia was enriched by crude but often lively woodcuts. Most were prepared specially for this work; others - like the rhinoceros after Dürer - were borrowed. They are realistic enough to act as a valuable supplement to the text" (PMM).

First (lib. V) and second edition (lib. I-IV. the first of the Frankfurt editions). Occasional light browning; almost no staining; a few slight creasemarks. Pages 41f. in lib. 1 have small tears to upper edge; ff. 1-4 in lib. III and pp. 961 f. in lib. IV show edge tears in the margins. Quire d (pp. 31-38) misbound before c in the appendix to lib. IV. A few edge defects to the final leaves of lib. V. The appealing bindings show a few small cuts and chafe marks, all professionally restored, as are the spines and the upper corner of the lower cover to vol. 3. Altogether a very fine copy. Provenance: flyleaves of vols. 1 & 2 recto have ownership "A. Van Burch 27 M[arch] 1612". Flyleaves of all three volumes bear the same seven-line inscription on the verso: "Anno 1723 die 10 maert heb ick dese drie boeken in folio, handelende van Beeste & vogelen & vischen door Conradus Gesnerus beschrevig aende pastorij van t' over Eyndt van Zutphaes verëert en de selve dy 14 d.o an de Eerw. H. pastoor Servatius Verhofstadt over gelanckt. G. F. Vander Burch van Wynesteyn". Pastedown of lib. III has handwritten ownership "Jannigje Bogaart" (18th c.); all pastedowns bear the bookplate of the Amsterdam physician and bibliophile Bob Luza (1893-1980), whose library was sold by Van Gendt & Co. in 1981. Last at Hartung & Hartung's sale 94 (1999), lot 342.


PMM 77. Wellisch A 23.2 (dated "1603", as Nissen), 24.2, 25.2, 26.2 & 27.1 = A 28.2 (entire work, bound chronologically). DSB V, 379. Nissen, ZBI 1549 (I), 1550 (II), 1553 (IV), 1556 (V); IVB 349 (III). VD 16, G 1725 (II), 1731 (III), 1744 (V). Adams G 534 (II), 536 (III), 539 (V). BM-STC G 532 (I), 538 (IV). Rudolphi 827; Vischer C 1093 (V).

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