Sciences, Japanese & Chinese Books, Bibliography and More from Jonathan A. Hill, Bookseller

- by Michael Stillman


Sciences, Japanese & Chinese Books, Bibliography and More from Jonathan A. Hill, Bookseller

Jonathan A. Hill Bookseller has published his Catalogue 218, also described on the cover as "45 Years," celebrating his number of years in the book world. Assuredly, the importance of the material he features has grown with the years. This looks like a book not a catalogue, a hard-bound octavo an inch thick. You will learn much about history simply by reading the descriptions of the books being offered. It is filled with titles that range from significant to extremely important. This is a collection of major works, intended for those who collect at the highest level.


The catalogue is divided into four sections. The first is Science, Medicine, and Natural History. It is filled with the discoveries that pushed humanity from its thousand years of deep sleep to the onrush of scientific learning that accompanied the invention of printing. It led to advances in the past 500 years that far exceed all of those accomplished in our first few million years of existence. The second section is Japanese & Chinese Books, Manuscripts, and Scrolls. These are obviously fine items, though I lack the expertise to comment meaningfully. The third part is Books in Many Fields, which is hard to describe for a different reason – it covers too many things to pinpoint. The fourth part covers Bibliography and the History of Book Collecting, which contains bibliographies, collection catalogues, auction catalogues, and other books about books. This is an exceptional catalogue. Here, now, are a few samples from its pages.


We begin with a very old book with an even older history. Item 104 is Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, by Beda (the Ecclesiastical History of England by the Venerable Bede). This is a first printed edition, from no later than 1475, of a book that was completed in the year 731. While styled a church history, it is actually a history of all sort of things going on in England, from the Roman conquest under Julius Caesar in the first century up to the "present," which was then the eighth century. Bede has been described as "the greatest English historian," and "the Father of English History." The spread of Christianity through the land is covered in the work, but so are the political activities of the times and the history of the Anglo-Saxon tribes. Since there is scant historical record of these times available, this book is critical to the knowledge of English history. This first printed edition was published in Strasbourg, which is not quite as surprising as it might sound. Publisher Heinrich Eggestyne was aware of what type of books would appeal to the laity, and he likely recognized that this history would interest educated readers in both England and on the continent, which indeed it did. Priced at $150,000.


Next is another first printed edition of an even earlier historical work, which ends around the time Bede's history begins. Item 128 is a first edition of De Antiquitate Judaica. De Bello Judaica, by Flavius Josephus, published in 1470. It is a history of the Jewish people, focused in particular on the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66, but ranging back about two centuries earlier. Josephus was a Jew who had traveled to Rome, but returned to Jerusalem at the time of the revolt. While having doubts about the wisdom of a rebellion against powerful Roman forces, he joined in and was captured. Josephus was able to preserve his own life by prophesying that Roman commander Vespasian would become emperor. Obviously, this prediction pleased Vespasian, but he imprisoned Josephus in case it was just a line to save his own skin. When the prophesy came true three years later, Josephus was freed, given a nice house in Rome, citizenship and a pension. It enabled him to spend his time writing histories. Josephus and his history have stirred much controversy, but like Bede's book, it is one of the few that provide true historical information about their times. Josephus' surrender and saving his own life, rather than giving his life in battle, did not make him popular among the Jewish people. His antiquities contains brief references to Jesus, the earliest such non-scriptural references, but since the earliest surviving copies of Josephus' book were created several centuries later, some have questioned whether these references accurately reflect what Josephus wrote. $450,000.


This item is described by Hill as "the first great scientific work published in England." Item 27 is De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure, by William Gilbert, published in 1600. Gilbert's work is noted for his early use of experimental methods to reach scientific conclusions, obvious today, not so then. His treatise focuses on magnetism. Gilbert concluded that the earth is a giant lodestone, in effect a giant magnet, which explained the working of a compass. He also talked about a separate attractive force, that of amber, today known as static electricity. It was Gilbert who coined the term "electricity," which comes from the Greek word for amber. He recognized that this was not the same force as magnetism. $65,000.


Item 90 is a manuscript entitled Kin shi (the natural history of mushrooms). It is the work of Katashi Masujima, with a preface dated 1811 and created in Japan. It includes 134 mostly color illustrations of mushrooms of Japan and China. Copies of this work were created and circulated from 1811, but it was never printed until a facsimile copy was published 2011. The text covers what had been written about the mushrooms by Japanese and Chinese authors. $15,000.


Next up is what Hill calls "the most exclusive bookseller's catalogue ever issued." It is also one of the strangest. The title is Here Begyneth a Littel Tome and Hathe to Name The Lincolne Nosegay: beynge a Brefe Table of Certaine Bokes in the Posession of Maister Thomas Frognall Dibdin Clerk. It was produced by the famed bibliophile and writer about books Thomas Frognall Dibdin. Dibdin had purchased the 19 books in the catalogue from the Lincoln Cathedral for 500 guineas. In a 1967 listing, Sotheby's less charitably used the word "raped" instead of purchased. Dibdin then turned around and created this bookseller's catalogue of sorts in what Sotheby's in 2015 described as "pseudo-Middle English." All of that notwithstanding, it immediately became highly collectible. That reflects the fact that only 36 copies were printed, 31 given to members of the Roxburghe Club, and Dibdin was highly regarded in book circles. It was so desirable that within a year of its publication date of 1814, a very good forgery was produced, some say with Dibdin's knowledge. Item 18. $75,000.


Jonathan A. Hill Bookseller may be reached at 646-827-0724 or The website is