A landmark of color-prining and the finest mineral plate book of the eighteenth century
Histoire Naturelle ou Exposition Générale de toutes ses parties gravées et imprimées en couleurs naturelles, avec des notes historiques ... 1.re Partie, Regne Minéral.
Paris: L'Imprimerie De Monsieur, sous la direction de P. Fr. Didot jeune, 1781.
1st Edition. Soft cover. 4to - over 9¾ - 12" tall. Near Fine. Item #003385
1781-[c.1791]. 4to (320 x 244 mm).  iv-vii ,  2-119  pp. Woodcut device on title, privilege on p. vii verso, 59 (of 61) engraved plates of minerals printed in colors and finished by hand, some heightened in silver or gold. Lacking plate no. 50. Each plate with manuscript descriptions in contemporary ink, 2 manuscript table leaves bound-in at end. Bound in simple percaline wrappers, spine with hand-lettered paper label, spine-ends with old tape repair (tapes starting to delaminate, edge wear and some soiling). Text and plates with little age-toning, minor spotting and dust-soiling mostly to outer margins, but in all a crisp, clean and unpressed copy. Provenance: from the private library of a Breton bibliophile. ----
EXCEPTIONALLY RARE FIRST EDITION OF A LANDMARK OF MINERAL COLOR-PLATE BOOKS, arguably the finest such production of the 18th-century. The plates I-XXXII and XXXIV-XL are in first state made by the color-printing technique (to be identified by the 4 pinholes or black spots and, for plates I-XXX the additional plate signature "Dessiné Gravé et Imprimé en Couleur par Fab. Gautier d'Agoty..."), whereas plates XXXI-LX are all hand-colored. Plate XX is present in colored state only (lacking the one in uncolored state). 5 plates missigned VI for V, VII for VI, VII for VII, IX for VIII, and XI for IX.
This work was intended to be issued in 8 or 10 installments, each comprising 10 color-printed plates of minerals. Because of Gautier d'Agoty's timely death in 1781 only 3 installments could be finished by himself. 3 further installments could be issued by his widow under the supervision of Romé de l'Isle, who also produced the explanatory text and selected the mineral specimens to be reproduced, and Francois Louis Swebach Desfontaines as the new artist to produce the plates.
"Many references to the first four installments appear in the second edition of Romé de l'Isle's Cristallographie (4 vols., Paris, 1783). But after those mentions the publishing history is obscure. The fact that the majority of copies of this book contain forty or less plates indicate the publication lapsed for some time after the fourth decade was issued. Only a few copies are known to contain plates 50-60, and only the British Library Catalog lists a copy with seventy plates, although no description text accompanies plates 61-70. The lack of descriptions with the plates may indicate that the final installment was prepared after Romé de l'Isle's death in 1790. One last tantilizing clue appeared in the "Avertissement" to Desfontaine's Manuel Cristallographie (Paris, 1792). There he explains that he will complete a work begun by Romé de l'Isle and of which seven decades had already appeared. This is undoubtedly a reference to d'Agoty's work, but alas Desfontaine's claim was never fulfilled, and the last hope for continuing Fabien's remarkable book evaporated." (Curtis Schuh's Bibliography of Mineralogy, 1827, online resources).
"The process employed in producing this work initially involved the direct printing of primary colors on the plates, rather than the then common practise of hand coloring. By successive overprinting, each time with one of four different color inks, an accurate portrayal of the minerals was achieved. The process proves so successful within this volume, that this work ranks among the very finest of the early colored mineralogies ever published. Unfortunately for the collector, this work must also be considered to be among the very rarest of colored mineral books . . . There is strong indication that coloring the plates by successive over printing probably caused tremendous difficulties. Of the several copies of this work examined, all contain a mixture of plates that are either color printed or hand-colored. The process employed on individual plates can be indentified by looking for the four tiny pin holes at the corners of the color printed plates that were used to register the paper on the press. In addition, plates 1-40 that are known to have been color printed, are also known in hand colored states. Copies of this book with color print plates are the more uncommon and more desireable to obtain.
We were unable to trace any copy in the trade or at auction having the full number of plates. The Krotki-Liebich copy (sold at Swann Galleries, 8 December 1994, lot 112, and later at Sotheby's Joseph A. Freilich sale) had all the colored 60 plates of the 6 installments, but lacking the additional uncolored plate. Only a single copy is known containing the 10 supplementory plates of the 7th installment (the British Library copy which however is wanting the title and prelims). OCLC/Worldcat locates a total of 7 copies in public libraries, including three in Paris, one in Copenhagen, two in London and only one in the US (Philadelphia).
Bibliographical references: Freilich Sale Catalog: no. 201; The Carl Krotki Library of Gemology & Mineralogy, Swann Galleries, 1994: no. 112; Gatterer, Mineralogischen Literatur, 1798-9: 1, 250-1; Observations sur la Physique, sur l'Histoire Naturelle et sur les Arts: 17 (1780), no. 1, 321-3; H.W.Singer, "Der Vierfarbendruck in der Gefolgschaft Jacob Christoffel le Blons, mit oeuvre - verzeichnissen der Familie Gautier Dagoty, J. Roberts, J. Ladmirals und C. Lasinos", Monatshefte für Kunstwissenschaft, 10, (1917), nos. 5, 7 & 8, pp. 177-99, 281-292, 301-314; W.E.Wilson, History of Mineral Collecting, 1994; W.E.Wilson, "Fabien Gautier d'Agoty and his Histoire Naturelle Régne Mineral, 1781", Mineralogical Record, 26, July-August 1995, pp. 68-76.
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