The Immense Natural Treasures of America Revealed and Lavishly Illustrated

“The First Scientific Expedition to New Spain”

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176. HERNÁNDEZ, Francisco. [Engraved title] Rervm Medicarvm Novæ Hispaniæ thesavrvs, Sev Plantarvm, Animalivm, Mineralivm Mexicanorvm Historia ex Francisci Hernandez Noui Orbis Medici Primarij Relationibus in ipsa Mexicana Vrbe conscriptis a Nardo Antonio Reccho Monte Coruinate Cath. Maiest. Medico et Neap. Regni Archiatro Generali Jussu Philippi II Hisp. Ind. etc. Regis Collecta ac in ordinem digesta a Ioanne Terrentio Lynceo Constantiense Germo. Phõ ac Medico Notis Illustrata Nunc Primū in Naturaliū Rer. Studiosor Gratiā Lucubrationibus Lynceorū publici iuris facta. Quibus Jam excussis accessere dernum alia quor. omnium synopsis sequenti pagina ponitur Opus duobus voluminibus diuisum Philippo IIII Regi Catholico Magno Hispaniar Vtriusq Siciliæ et Indiaurũ etc. Monarchæ dictatum. Cum Priuilegiis. Rome: Superior permissu. Ex Typographeio Vitalis Mascardi, 1651. [36], 1-455 [1, blank] 457-950, [2], 1-90, [6] pp., 2 copper engraved plates: [1] historiated architectonic title page by Frederic Greuter (six Native Americans flank title surmounted by the royal Spanish coat of arms of Philip II, III, and IV surrounded by the chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece, below two putti display the draped title, at the bottom is a small map of Mexico); [2] botanical plate with early hand coloring, between pp. 212-213 (Cozolmecatl Chinæ Mexicanæ Species. Lib. VI. Cap. LVII. fol. 213, specimen of cradle cord); engraved text illustration (music at p. 717); approximately 800 woodcut text illustrations, some with early color (flora and fauna); head-pieces, initials, side notes. Without letterpress title pages and plate (at p. 301), as is often the case (see notes below). 2 vols., folio (31 x 22 cm), eighteenth-century full mottled calf, spine extra gilt with raised bands and red and green morocco labels, edges tinted red, marbled endpapers. Very slight wear to bindings, title scrubbed with two small losses, very mild scattered foxing, and a bit of marginal water staining, small hole at leaf 3R5 affecting a few letters. The oversize tables in Vol. II are trimmed with loss. Overall a very good copy. The Estelle Doheny copy with her burgundy morocco gilt book labels on front flyleaves. Engraved armorial bookplates of George Wilbraham of Delamere House (Quaritch, Contributions towards a Dictionary of English Book-Collectors, p. 30). Preliminary leaf and a few inner leaves with ink ownership inscriptions of former owners Alonso de Castañeda and Luís Herrera (dated 1740), stating the latter acquired the volumes upon the death of the former, with their numerous neat ink interlinear marginal notes. Some of the contemporary ink notes are corrections set out in the errata.

     First Latin edition, third issue, the dedications to Cardinal Barberini cancelled and others substituted (British Museum and Alden/Landis state that this is a reissue of Rerum medicarum Novae Hispanae thesaurus, 1649, with a new title page). The earliest published version of Hernández’ great natural history of New Spain appeared in Spanish and Aztec, un-illustrated, at Mexico City in 1615 (the earliest work published in the New world describing the medicinal value of native plants). An extensively augmented version was privately printed in Rome in 1628, of which very few copies survive. The present issue is from the 1628 sheets. Anderson, Herbals, Chapter 30 (pp. 235-244): “The first scientific expedition to New Spain.” Anker, Bird Books and Bird Art, p. 18: “More than 200 birds are enumerated and briefly commented upon. This section is not illustrated, although several pictures of birds are found in other parts of the work.” Arents (Add.) 346. Beddall, “Spanish Science and the New World,” p. 434: “Hernández traveled in New Spain (Mexico) on what is now considered to be the first modern scientific expedition.” BMC (Nat. Hist.) II, p. 832. JCB I (2, 1600-1658), p. 408. Brunet III, cols. 119-120n. Coues, Birds of the Colorado Valley, pp. 573-574: “This famous work is cited by bibliographers and naturalists in such uncertain ways, occasioning much confusion.” Doheny Sale, Christie’s (New York, February 1, 1988) lot 231 (this copy). European Americana 1651/81 & 1651/82. Garrison & Morton (5th edition), Medical Bibliography 1821.1n (citing 1628 edition). Glass, pp. 131-132, #132 & fig. 38 & p. 624 (citing this 1651 edition): “Known copies vary in bibliographical detail; some copies have title pages dated 1630, 1648, or 1649.” Guerra, Bibliografía de la Materia Medica Mexicana 150. Guerra, Iconografía Medica Mexicana 857 & CCCLIII. Hunt, Catalogue of Botanical Books 247 (excellent discussion of the complex publication sequence, the variants, the alternate dedications, etc.; see below). Krivatsy, Catalogue of 17th Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine 5533. Leclerc, Bibliotheca Americana (1867) 702; (1878) 1154. Medina, Hispano-Americana 1157. Moll, Æsculapius in Latin America, pp. 42-43: “A high milestone.” Nissen, Die botanische Buchillustration 861.  Nissen, Die botanische Buchillustration, p. 39: “Zoologically valuable information and papers brought from the newly discovered continents were sparse in the first centuries.... The first major contribution was brought home from Mexico by the personal physician of Philip II, Francisco Hernández.” Nissen, ZBI 1908a. Palau 113538. Pilling 1745 & 1746. Price, Medical Americana M207. Pritzel, ­Thesaurus Literaturae Botanica 4000. Sabin 31516. Sánchez Téllez, et al, La Doctrina Farmacéutica del Renacimiento en la Obra de Francisco Hernández, p. 6: “For its scope, rigor, and its descriptions of material previously unknown [in Spain] the work of [Hernández] in materia medica is the most original in the Spanish Renaissance, which is tantamount to saying in the entire Renaissance.” Wilgus, pp. 51: “Now very rare.” Wood, Vertebrate Zoology, p. 384.

     The bibliography of this edition remains confused because its principal sponsor died when printing was underway and certain changes were made to some leaves. As Rich remarks, “There is a great deal of confusion in regard to the bibliographical...history of this work.” Clearly, the book is found with and without the printed titles and the two plates, and with and without dedication leaves to various persons (or substitutions of dedicatees) depending on when any given copy was issued. Modern misinterpretation does not help the situation, either. For example, Christies, in their description of the Gilger copy (2003), touted it as virtually unique because it contained two plates they described as “apparently unrecorded,” although the same house sold the Doheny copy (which is the present one) in 1988 and it has one of the plates. The presence of the two plates has also been noted previously by several bibliographers, such as Pilling in 1885. At any rate, the copy here is reasonably complete with the address to the reader, the dedication to Mendoza, the dedication to Cesi, Rerum medicarvm, Historiæ animalvm, and one engraved plate (not counting title). It has been suggested that when the work was in progress in 1628 that the publisher and sponsor intended to illustrate the work entirely with copper-plates, and two plates were created, but it was decided it would be too expensive to make copper-plates for all the illustrations. This might explain why some copies of have one or two plates.

     The complexity and sheer size of this work presented the European printer with a tremendous challenge. Hunt sets out the labyrinthine publishing history, beginning in her discussion of the 1615 edition (entry 200, pp. 221):

Behind the publication of this book lay a dramatic and tragic story. Hernández had been sent to Mexico in 1570 by King Phillip of Spain (to whom he was physician) to make a study of the medical discoveries that were being made in that country. The physician became utterly absorbed in his work, making comprehensive notes on the natural history of Mexico, the customs of the people, and experimenting with the native medicines, even testing their effects on himself. His notes grew and grew, and he stayed on till 1577 when funds for the expedition were exhausted and he was forced to return to Spain. He brought back with him about twenty huge volumes of manuscript material and very grandiose plans for its publication. To his bitter disappointment, the only grandiose thing his work achieved was the magnificent binding ordered for the manuscript volumes by the King, who deposited them in the Library of the Royal Monastery in the Escorial.... Poor Hernández died in 1587, without ever seeing one word of his work in print.
Later on, the King, realizing that he must give as much of Hernández’ manuscript to the world as possible, asked Nardo Antonio de Recchi to edit it, and de Recchi did succeed in extracting most of its medical material, thus saving at least that much for posterity. For the final tragedy was the whole of the original of Hernández’ manuscript was lost in 1671 when the Royal Monastery Library was destroyed by fire. [In the introduction to the 1615 edition printed in Mexico, Francisco Ximénez] says a copy of de Recchi’s manuscript abridgement reached the Indies and fell into his hands “by strange ways.” Indeed the ways must have been strange, but Ximénez...had some pharmaceutical background and knew the value of Hernández’ observations and de Recchi’s notes. He determined to publish his own translation of de Recchi’s work in order to correct the errors that had crept into the numerous corrupt Hernández manuscripts that were in circulation.
So, finally, years after Hernández’ death, [the 1615 Mexican edition was published]. This small part of his great studies appeared in print for the first time, though with none of the acclaim he had so justly expected for it. Ximénez’ translation seems to have been almost unknown on the European continent for many years after its publication in Mexico.

Hunt continues in entry 247 (pp. 263-267) with a discussion of the present edition:

Misfortune had also pursued the original manuscript of de Recchi’s Latin abridgment, and he died before it was quite ready for publication. His nephew took the notes to Roma, and there finally, Prince Federico Cesi became its patron and instituted the work of re-editing and organizing what de Recchi had done, ably assisted by Giovanni Terrentio, Johannes Faber, and Fabio Colonna. All was ready for publication in 1628 when Prince Federico himself died, leaving the project without funds, and it is thought that only a few copies of that “edition” ever reached the world at large, since a number of the bibliographies, including Guerra, ignore its existence. What descriptions there are vary, Sabin and Medina describing it as having an engraved title and 950 pages plus 17 leaves, with 90 numbered pages plus 6 unnumbered in the appended Historia Animalium Liber Unicus, while Nissen (No. 861) describes it as having 899 pages, 16 leaves, and 90 and 7 pages in the last part.
The only copy of the 1628 “edition” that we have been able to find in America is in the National Library of Medicine. Dr. Dorothy Schullian’s description confirms our belief that the 1649 (1651) edition is made up from the earlier sheets, with only the addition of...the new title page and other new material in our collation. The 1649 title page is copied from that having the 1628 date.... The publication of the 1649 (1651) edition was due to the efforts of Francesco Stelluti of the Academia dei Lincei in Roma, who succeeded in obtaining enough money from Don Alfonso Turiano, the Spanish Ambassador to Rome, to produce the work. Copies with the 1649 engraved title page are listed by Guerra and the Lindley Library, though the commonest form of listing is with the 1651 engraved title (identical except for change in date).... The alternate and substitute dedications are puzzling but curiously interesting as they reflect the precariousness of political life in Italy in the XVIIth century.... It seems probable that all evidence of honor to Cardinal Barberini was meant to be removed when copies of the 1649 (1651) edition were bound up, and that it was just through the oversight of the binder that copies with both series of dedications got into circulation. There is an illustration on [Yyy6] verso of the Dracunculus Monoceros which is also dedicated to Barberini, and is sometimes found either cut out entirely or damaged. As for the book itself, with its brilliant appended treatises, it was here at last that Hernández’ work received the recognition it deserved.... Hernández was henceforward referred to as “the third Pliny.”

See also the following citations for two useful and interesting explorations of the intriguing publishing history and the author himself: Nettie Lee Benson “The Ill-Fated Works of Francisco Hernández,” Library Chronicle of the University of Texas, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1953), pp. 17-27. Simon Varey & Rafael Chabrán, “Medical Natural History in the Renaissance: The Strange Case of Francisco Hernández,” Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Spring, 1994), pp. 124-151. William H. Prescott remarked in his History of the Conquest of Mexico (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1843, Vol. I, p. 78): “The work of Francisco Hernández is a monument of industry and erudition, the more remarkable for being the first on this difficult subject. And, after all the additional light from the labours of later naturalists, it still holds its place as a book of the highest authority, for the perspicuity, fidelity, and thoroughness with which the multifarious topics are in it discussed.”

     The impact of this volume was significant. The work of Francisco Hernández (1517-1587) is a primary example of Western medicine coming of age due to creative interactions between the peoples of Europe and the Americas. It is also a heartening example of positive interaction between Europeans and Native Americans. Hernández, physician to Philip II, was one of the most eminent physicians of the sixteenth century and surgeon-general of the Indies. He was not just a practicing physician, but also a scholar of distinction and an amazingly prolific writer who viewed the world through a prescient lens. His association with the freethinking Erasmian humanists of his time has been conjectured as a possible reason for the impediments to publication of his colossal manuscripts. The Roman Catholic Church may well have looked askance at his work even after his death, since the publication of Hernández’ work became the primary goal of the founder of the Lincean Academy, who came to the defense of their member Galileo in disputes with the Church. In addition to all his lofty connections and highly developed intellect, Hernández, like Humboldt, was a good, practical man on the ground. He worked alongside Native healers and artists for seven years in New Spain (primarily Mexico) learning the names and properties of the local plants and their use, medically and otherwise. As a result, he produced a monumental compilation of richly illustrated manuscripts based on indigenous nomenclature, and gave credit to the Indian artists and healers who ably assisted him. Some idea of the quantum leap made by Hernández may be inferred when one considers that he included descriptions of more than three thousand plants from the New World, while the most popular herbal of classical times, Dioscorides Materia Medica, included only six hundred species.

     Certainly the star of the show in text and iconography is the flora, especially the materia medica (a plethora of herbs and other plants for healing, such as sassafras, for treating the dreaded “French disease”), as well as a wide variety of plants and trees used for foodstuffs (e.g., cacao, corn, vanilla, chiles, fruits, etc.), intoxicating beverages (tequila, pulque, various corn concoctions, etc.), and the creation of material goods for daily use (e.g., maguey for rope and cloth, agave for paper, and so on). Richard Evans Schultes notes that the first full descriptions of various hallucinogens such as peyote and oliliuhqui were recorded by Hernández (“Plant Kingdom and Hallucinogens” in Bulletin on Narcotics, 1969-1970). In Little Flowers of the Gods (Rochester, Vermont, 1979), Schultes states that Hernández discovered three kinds of mushrooms worshipped in Mexico. In his Ethnobotany: Evolution of a Discipline (Timber Press, 1995, p. 90), Schultes designates Martín de la Cruz and Hernández as the pioneers of ethnobotany in the New World, the former for his preservation of the rich tradition of the Aztecs already in place before the Spanish arrived. Schultes describes Hernández work as “extraordinary, fully illustrated...not published until 1651” and states: “Other than these two studies, nothing of historical importance to ethnopharmacology appeared in the Americas in this early period.”

     Flora is complemented with smaller sections on fauna and minerals. Among the animals described and illustrated—many for the first time in print—are the coyote, ocelot, buffalo, lizards (horny toad, chameleon, etc.), llama, armadillo, and others, along with various birds, such as the hummingbird, woodpecker, bird of paradise, and toucan. Newly discovered minerals are identified and analyzed, and ones previously known are described in expanded detail with notes on usage. Preceding the first page of text proper is “Vocum quarundam Americanarum expicatio” with terms in Native American languages translated to Spanish, which brought together European and Native American classification systems.

     Finally, the engraved petite map of Mexico on the engraved title shows Mexico from the northern borderlands south to Tehauntepec and Honduras, including a goodly portion of the Gulf of Mexico Place names in the Gulf of Mexico region include “Sinus Mexicanus” (Gulf of Mexico), “C. Bravo,” “Malabriga,” “Rio de Gigātes” (thought to be Piñeda’s place name for the dwelling place of the Karankawas on the middle Texas coast), and “Quigata” (De Soto place name near Little Rock, Arkansas). Apparently, geographical veracity was not the intent of the engraver. Likely the map was a visual element with a bit of fantasy meant to suggest the treasures of the New World. Some of the toponyms are locations where Cortez and other early explorers found treasure of the mineral type.


Sold. Hammer: $15,000.00; Price Realized: $18,375.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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