“Buy 5 Get 1 Free” – that is how the publisher advertised the 1805 edition of Ferdinand Seidel’s Naturhistorisches Kupferwerk : mit erklärendem Texte nach Büffon, acquired this fall by Special Collections (Rare Book – Chapin-Horowitz QH45. B84 S45 1805).
This rare volume, the title of which roughly translates as “Natural History in copper plates, with explanatory text following Buffon” makes a wonderful addition to our Chapin-Horowitz Collection of Cynographica. Unlike Buffon’s ten-volume standard scientific work, Seidel’s one volume (the originally planned second volume was never published) intended to reach a more general audience: lovers and amateurs of natural history, as well as juveniles. Newspaper advertising and reviews emphasize that the heavily illustrated volume would both educate and entertain, and thus be a “Christmas present of real and enduring value.”
And given that there are more copperplate engravings (179) than pages of explanatory text (155), Seidel was likely right on track to achieve that goal. Reviews praise the quality and quantity of the illustrations, though at least one reviewer would have preferred if Seidel had copied not the black & white ‘Buffon-style’ illustrations but instead had chosen illuminated copperplates of the kind that adorn naturalist J.C.D. Schreber’s (1739-1810) books.
Nevertheless, the artists and engravers of Seidel’s natural history volume were well-known men, like Jacques de Sève (fl. 1742-1788), Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755), Johann Martin Bernigeroth (1713 – 1767) – and maybe more surprisingly, at least one woman: Johanna Dorothea Phillip (nee Sysang) (1729-1791), who had learned the art of copperplate engraving from her father, Johann Christoph Sysang (1703-1757).
Swem Library’s 1805 edition of Seidel is not only very rare (WorldCat shows Swem’s copy as the only one in the United States and one of only 3 in libraries around the World) it also has a unique feature. It bears signatures of two nineteenth century owners, G. Muller and E. Bodenhoff, who, as research conducted as part of the cataloging process shows, are most likely General Frederik Gotthold von Müller (1795-1882) and Ernst Emil Bodenhoff (1852-1934), both of whom were connected to the royal court of Denmark, Mueller as courtier and Bodenhoff as his biographer.
So now more than 200 years after Seidel’s Natural History,was first published, William & Mary Libraries is doing its part to assure the enduring value of the volume, so it can continue to fulfill the author’s mission to educate and entertain. We invite you to come and take a look for yourself!
Reviews consulted: Zeitung für die elegante Welt Berlin: Mode, Unterhaltung, Kunst, Theater, Band 9, 1809; Allgemeine Literaturzeitung ALZ Num. 208, August 1806; Allgemeine Chronik, Gera, No. 97, 1804.