Cristallographie, ou Description des formes propres à tous les corps du règne minéral, Dans l'état de Combinaison saline, pierreuse ou métallique.

Paris: De l'Imprimerie de Monsieur, 1783.

First edition under this title, expanding Romé’s earlier work Essai de cristallographie (1772) into four volumes that include an atlas describing more than 450 crystal forms. It is in this work, rather than in the Essai, that Romé first states the crucial fact of the constancy of the interfacial angles in a crystal, which had earlier been described only in special cases. “The importance of Romé de l’Isle’s work was stressed by Haüy (1795) who wrote: ‘To the exact descriptions he gave of the crystalline forms, he added the measure of their angles, and, which was essential, showed that these angles were constant for each variety. In one word, his crystallography was the fruit of an immense work, almost entirely new and most precious for its usefulness’” (Authier, pp. 313-4).

“J.-B. L. Romé de l’Isle (1736-90) had started collecting minerals during his travels as a naval officer. Back in Paris after the Indian wars, he was introduced into mineralogy by the apothecary, chemist and mineralogist Balthazar Georges Sage (1740-1824), whio became his friend. It was very fashionable at the time in Paris to have a mineral collection. The owner of an important private collection, P. Davila, wanted to sell his. At Sage’s suggestion, he asked Romé de l’Isle to draw up the inventory. Romé made a very thorough job of it, the inventory running up to three thick volumes. This was his first work on mineralogy, published in 1767 [Catalogue systematique et raisonne des curiosites de la nature et de l'art, qui composent le cabinet de M. Davila]. It gave him the opportunity to study crystalline forms in detail and led to his Essai de cristallographie, ou Description des figures géométriques propres à différens corps du règne minéral, connus vulgairement sous le nom de cristaux (1772). In the preface, he noted that ‘of the curious phenomena of the mineral kingdom those which struck him most were the regular and constant forms taken by some bodies designated by the name of crystals.’ It was encouraged by the works of Linnaeus, he added, that he undertook the study of the angular forms of crystals and of their transformations. Their polyhedral shape was known by the Ancients for quartz, diamond and a few others, and Romé widely extended this observation. Minerals are sorted by him into four classes, salts, stony, pyratic and metallic. For each mineral, the most frequent forms observed are described, with a reference to Linnaeus’s classification in Systema naturae. In general, with a few exception (calcite, garnet, gypsum, quartz), there are no values of facial or interfacial angles and those given are old ones. Steno’s ideas relative to the growth of quartz layer by layer are quoted at length, and Romé de l’Islefelt they could be applied to all crystals. The book was a success, acclaimed by Linnaeus himself, and brought international fame to Romé de l’Isle.

“The second crystallographic treatise, Cristallographie, ou Description des formes propres à tous les corps du règne minéral, dedicated to the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences, contains a description of a much larger number of crystal forms (more than 500) than the first one (110) and Linnaeus’s (about 40). It is in this work that Romé de l’Isle states the constancy of interfacial angles: ‘Nothing is easier than to show, with the help of the goniometer, which we owe to M. Carangeot, the constancy of the [interfacial] angles and of the crystalline form of every species.’ More precisely, ‘the faces of a crystal may vary in their shape and in their extension, but their respective inclination is constant and invariable in each species.’ Romé de l’Isle’s aim was to put some order in the confusion created by the large variety of forms exhibited by most crystals. He notes that ‘at the imitation of the famous Bergmann, some physicists among us busy themselves at present demonstrating by geometrical figures and calculations the mechanism by which are constructed some crystals that are easy to divide with a cutting tool.’ He had Haüy specifically in mind whom he calls a cristalloclaste, who ‘mutilates the few crystals that can be divided mechanically, looking for an alleged nucleus which, even if it existed, could not be explained by geometry alone.’ Romé de l’Isle also criticized Haüy’s interpretation of the garnet forms. For him, on the contrary, ‘one should start by investigating all the various forms of a given species.’ This he did by carefully measuring the interfacial angles with the Carangeot contact goniometer and identifying the individual forms associated in a given specimen of a crystal. He defined six primitive forms, and showed that each of the individual forms can be derived from a primitive form by suitable truncations. Romé de l’Isle was, however, himself criticized for the arbitrary choice of the primitive forms, but also by mineralogists such as Bergmann and Kirwan, who described him as a mere ‘catalogue maker’!” (ibid., pp. 314-6).

Cole 1124. Poggendorff, vol. II, col. 682-683. Schuh, Mineralogy & Cristallography, 4152. Authier, Early Days of X-ray Crystallography, 2013.



Four volumes, 8vo (205 x 125 mm), pp. xxxviii, [2], 623, [1]; [4], 659, [1]; [4], 611, [1]; xvi, 80, with 12 folding engraved plates and 32 large folding tables. Contemporary quarter-calf and marbled boards with vellum tips, red and black lettering-pieces on spines (rubbed, joints cracked).

Item #4519

Price: $8,500.00