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Vicenza: Hermann Liechtenstein, 13 September 1475 Stock Code: 142241
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One of the most influential books in the shaping of the modern world

First edition, an exceptional, unsophisticated copy with wide margins, of the most celebrated geographical treatise of classical antiquity; an edition of the greatest rarity, and a monumental achievement of geographical knowledge and a cornerstone of the European tradition.

The Cosmographia, or Geography, divided into eight books, was produced by Ptolemy in the second century CE and describes the known inhabited world (oikoumene), divided into three continents: Europe, Libye (or Africa), and Asia. Book i provides details for drawing a world map with two different projections (one with linear, the other with curved meridians), while Books ii-vii list the longitude and latitude of some 8,000 locations. Book vii concludes with instructions for a perspectival representation of a globe. In Book viii Ptolemy breaks down the world map into 26 smaller areas and provides useful descriptions for cartographers.

Ptolemy's work was known in the Arab world; Muslim cartographers were using copies of Ptolemy's Almagest and Geography by the ninth century. But it was forgotten in the west until brought to Italy from Constantinople around 1400. The first translation into Latin was made by Jacopo Angeli (otherwise Angelo da Scarperia) in Florence between 1406 and 1409. He was a pupil of Manuel Chrysoloras (c.1350-1415), the exiled Byzantine scholar who had possibly begun the translation himself, based on a hitherto unidentified Greek manuscript. Angelo's translation is mainly a composite text deriving from two different manuscripts. This volume was edited by Angelus Vadius and Barnabas Picardus. The only illustrations are the three diagrams in chapter xxiv of Book i (fols. bb5v, bb6v, and bb7v), showing the "modus designandi in tabula plana", and that on fol. F3, depicting the Polus antarcticus.

The appearance of Ptolemy's work in print had remarkably fruitful consequences. Once illustrated with maps, as it was in the edition published in Bologna in 1477, with copperplates drawn and engraved by the famous illuminator Taddeo Crivelli, the book would form the first printed atlas. When it was realized, by about 1561 by Gastaldi and others, that maps drawn to replicate Ptolemy's list of places and coordinates were inaccurate, rectification of Ptolemy became a major project in world cartography. Meanwhile, rectification of his Almagest sparked the scientific revolution in cosmography.

Given the limitations of his sources, Ptolemy's data was astonishingly accurate. His latitude is quite stable and never exceeds -3 to +2 differences; for his own Hellenistic world his latitude differences vary from -1 to 1. But in longitude his coordinates show increasing divergence eastwards, a reflection of his gross underestimation of the circumference of the earth, a miscalculation that nevertheless gave Columbus the confidence to believe that he could sail westwards round the world to reach China.

Ptolemy places the name Macoraba in the west of the Arabian Peninsula. There is a long tradition in Orientalist scholarship, traceable back to Samuel Bochart in 1646, that Macoraba is Mecca. If the identification is correct, then this is the first appearance in print of that place.

Ptolemy's Geographia is one of the first books printed in Vicenza, where printing had been introduced in spring 1474 by Leonardus Achates, born Leonhard Agtstein in Basel. This first edition was issued from the printing house established in Vicenza by the German printer Hermann Liechtenstein, a native of Cologne, also known as "Leuilapis".

The first edition is well-located in libraries, ISTC locating 79 holding institutions worldwide, but is exceedingly rare in commerce. Only three copies have appeared at auction in the past 45 years: before this, the Pillone library copy (with a painted fore edge), Sotheby's, Dec 7, 2000, lot 14, 480,000 plus buyer's premium; and the Macclesfield copy, Sotheby's, Mar 15, 2007, lot 3255, 130,000 plus premium. Before that, the last copy shown in auction records was in 1947.

The Latin edition of this landmark geographical text enjoyed wide and enduring popularity. The editio princeps in Greek appeared in Basel only in 1533, and the circulation of the Latin text throughout Europe in the 15th century can be said without fear of exaggeration to be one of the most influential factors in the shaping of the modern world.

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Folio (304 x 205 mm). Contemporary wooden boards, one (of two) original oyster clasps preserved, spine covered in calf, with three raised bands. Housed in a suede-lined black morocco drop-back box by Boichot.


Collation: aa10, bb8-1, a10, b-g8, h10, A-F8, G10. 142 of [143] leaves, lacking fol. aa1 blank. Text in single column, 39 lines, type: 102R, finely hand-painted initials alternately in red or blue, that on aa8 verso with extension, 7-line blank space on a


Early 20th-century French bookseller's typed description to front pastedown. A few wormholes to covers, loss to top corner of upper cover, head and foot of joints slightly worn; two small wormholes to blank outer margin of first leaf repaired, without any loss, occasional light foxing, front and rear flyleaves both reinforced at an early date with a fragment from a manuscript, rear flyleaf and pastedown more recently renewed, pencilled bibliographical notes on rear pastedown.


HC 13536*; GW M36388; BMC VII 1035; IGI 8180; Goff P-108; Flodr, Ptolomaeus, 1; Sander 5973.


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