De metallicis libri tres.

Rome: Alvise Zanetti, 1596.

First edition, the Honeyman copy, of this rare and important early work on metallurgy, for which Georges Cuvier called Cesalpino the creator of the doctrines of mineralogy. Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603) is best known for his botanical discoveries, “grouping a wealth of careful observations under broad categories, on the model of Aristotle and Theophrastus” (DSB). De metallicis was written as a companion to the author’s famous botanical work, De Plantis (1583); it was intended to extend Cesalpino’s visionary theory of botanical classification to the mineral kingdom. At the end of the 16th century, Cesalpino’s student Michele Mercati (1541-93) had begun to classify and catalogue the metallic specimens held in the Vatican’s mineralogical collection, but died before the manuscript was published (it was eventually printed in 1717). After Mercati’s premature death, Cesalpino succeeded him as papal physician in Rome where he researched the De metallicis. Cesalpino intended his treatise to supplement Mercati’s work by not only describing metals but also focusing on the papal collection of gems and marbles. It is also much more scientific than Mercati’s work, with remarks on hardening and tempering steel, an analysis of crystallization which was later adopted by Haüy, and an early recognition of the true organic nature of fossils. “Cesalpino speculated that the presence of shells in some stones was due to the withdrawal of an earlier sea, puzzled over why minerals that crystallize always take on the same geometric forms, and noted lead’s increased weight after burning or exposure to damp. He also described the various uses of metals and minerals in contemporary manufacture, such as in the making of alum or in coloring glass” (Norman). A whole chapter is devoted to the magnet (Chap. 55). Dedicated to his main patron, Pope Clement VIII, De metallicis also deals with a number of remedies that were relevant to chemical medicine: antimony, sal ammoniac, red precipitate (made with mercury), and a mercurial ointment for the cure of venereal diseases. More than two hundred entries in the copious index indicate the thoroughness of Cesalpino’s work, e.g., agate, bitumen, copper ore, topaz, sea-snails, and kidney stones.De metallicis is divided into three books. Book I deals with the genesis of minerals and sketches a theory of classification according to their admixtures of the four elements; Book II treats limestone, marble, precious stones, crystals and salts, and the processes by which crystallization gives minerals their regular form; and Book III is devoted to metals and mining. Throughout the author provides commentary from ancient and contemporary sources, together with his own observations. ABPC/RBH records the sale of only two copies: one in 1993 (recased in contemporary vellum) and the Norman/Freilich copy (contemporary vellum repaired, with ink and embossed stamps on title).

Provenance: Robert Honeyman (red morocco label on front paste-down); Convent of Santa Maria of Scala (inscription on title and shelf-mark on front free endpaper).

“In the first book [Cesalpino] explains from Aristotle that metals are vapours condensed by cold, and distinguishes minerals from vegetables in that the former do not putrefy and form no aliment suitable for the nourishment of animals. He explains the presence of shells in some stones as resulting from the withdrawal of a previous sea, a theory previously held by Leonardo da Vinci. Mineral waters, some hot enough to cook eggs, are produced by the combination of bodies which are burnt inside the earth. He mentions sal ammoniac, called by some Sal Armeniac, or Nusader, and said to be made from camel’s urine.

“The manufacture of alum in the Papal works near Tolfa in the territory of Rome is described:

‘A soft and white stone, or a hard and red stone [an aluminous schist], give two kinds of alum, a white and a red. The stone is calcinated in a furnace, sprinkled for some days, and then boiled, with water. Then, having separated the impurities, the liquors are concentrated in cauldrons and cooled in wooden vats, when angular and transparent crystals the size of nuts separate. The Roman alum was much prized by dyers since it is free from soluble iron salts, the red colour being due to a quite insoluble ferric oxide, and the process is still worked at Tolfa.’

“The theory of many chemists that metals are composed of sulphur as a masculine seed, and mercury, coagulated in various purities and proportions, is given without comment; it is said that oleum sulphuris (sulphuric acid) is made by burning sulphur under a glass bell and has the same virtues as oil of vitriol.

“The second book deals with limestone, marble, precious stones, salts, etc. It says that mineral bodies assume regular geometrical forms on crystallization: nitre, alum, vitriol and white sugar (which is not, of course, a mineral) become hexagons, octagons, cubes, etc., and ‘one asks with astonishment why the same bodies always crystalize in the same forms.’ The lynx stone, said to be the coagulated urine of the lynx, is like amber; a kind found near Naples grows mushrooms when watered. It is said that cobalt (zaffre) is used for colouring glass but Cesalpino is ignorant of its nature.

“The third book deals with metals. It gives a recipe from Albertus Magnus for tempering iron (steel) in radish juice mixed with earthworms. It says it is curious that lead burnt to ash in a furnace increases in weight by 8 to 10 per cent, as the metallurgists testify. This is caused by the soot condensing in the pores. The ashes can be reconverted into lead, but of less weight, hence the burning does not increase the lead but diminishes it, and the increase is in the dross. On exposing lead in a damp place, however, its weight increases, as Galen says, and the substance of the air produces the rust on the lead, augmenting its substance …

“Lead is like ‘soap which washes gold and silver’ by cupellation; a yellow pigment from tin is called Giallolinium; this may be lead antimonite (Naples yellow). Plumbago, a shiny slippery black stone which stains the hands and is called Flanders stone, since it comes from Belgium, is used for drawing. Stibnite is a stone like black lead. Metallic antimony is mixed with bismuth (found in Germany) to make metal type; it is hard and brittle. Chemists make red oil from stibium; it can also be burnt to ash with evolution of fumes, and then melted with borax and sal ammoniac and poured over sheet copper or marble.

“Cinnabar was mined near Goeritz in Idria as a friable red stone as heavy as lead, containing brilliant deposits of mercury and called native cinnabar. Mercury is obtained from it by heating in earthen vessels, from which the mercury runs into underground receivers. From it is now prepared red precipitate by dissolving in nitric acid, evaporating and heating; and by subliming with sal ammoniac (corrosive) sublimate in white crystals like sugar but intensely poisonous are obtained. Salivation is produced by the use of mercurial ointment (made by rubbing mercury with lard) in the cure of venereal disease” (Partington).

De Metallicis is also of interest as a compendium of fantastic lore culled from ancient and contemporary sources: “Not only do we hear of a lynx stone near Naples that bears mushrooms, which Cesalpino regards as a great marvel but which may be a fact, but we have the gem jasper suspended as an amulet or are regaled with the virtues of bezaar or bezoar stones. One from Persia that grows in goats is tested in this wise. They smear a thread with poison such as the juice of a white hellebore and draw it with a needle through the foot of a dog or other part of an animal, leaving the thread in the wound. When symptoms of poisoning aggravate, they bring the stone near, and if it is genuine, the animal feels relief from that remedy” (Thorndike).

“Cesalpino studied philosophy and medicine at Pisa, where he received the doctorate in 1551. Four years later he succeeded his teacher Luca Ghini as professor of medicine and director of the botanical garden at Pisa. In 1592 he was called to Rome as physician to Pope Clement VIII and, simultaneously, professor at the Sapienza, where he taught until his death” (DSB). Cesalpino is perhaps best known as a “botanist who sought a philosophical and theoretical approach to plant classification based on unified and coherent principles rather than on alphabetical sequence or medicinal properties. He helped establish botany as an independent science” (Britannica).

Adams C-19; Brunet 1, 1451; Hoover 212; Mottelay 502; Neville, I, p. 255 (‘Rare’); Norman 433; Partington II, pp. 89-92; Roller & Goodman 1, 218; Schuh, Mineralogy & Crystallography: A Biobibliography, 1469 to 1920, 1108 Sinkankas 1218; Wellcome 1, 1183.



4to (211 x 152 mm), pp. [xvi], 222, [1], contemporary marginal annotations. Contemporary limp vellum, manuscript title on spine, red edges (spine darkened and worn with loss). Housed in a red morocco-backed box.

Item #5102

Price: $25,000.00

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