Rare First Edition of Bassantin's Important Astronomical and Cartographical Work
with Thirty-Five Volvelles
The Destombes Copy
BASSANTIN, James. Astronomique discours. Lyons: Par Jan de Tournes, 1557.
Rare first edition of this beautifully illustrated astronomical work. Large folio (16 7/8 x 11 11/16 inches; 428 x 297 mm.). 285, [1, privilege], [1, printer's device], [1, blank] pp. With 175 woodcuts and woodcut diagrams, of which fourteen have a total of thirty-five (of thirty-six) volvelles (as in the Honeyman and Horblit copies; the two Harvard copies have only thirty-three), one half-page and the rest full-page. Fifty-six text tables. Arabesque and type ornament headpieces, arabesque tailpieces. Woodcut printer's device on title and another on recto of final leaf.
Early twentieth-century (ca.1925) French brown hard-grain morocco by René Aussour (stamp-signed in gilt on the front turn-in). Yapp edges. Covers ruled in blind, smooth spine decoratively ruled in blind and ruled and lettered in gilt, turn-ins ruled in blind, all edges gilt, marbled endpapers. With the bookplate of Marcel Destombes, the famed historian of cartography. Paper repair to lower blank margin of title, to lower gutter of leaf b2 (pp. 11/12), and to a few other leaves. Overall, a fine and fresh copy.
Because of the delicacy of the volvelles' construction, moving parts and active contemporary use, copies in condition with all thirty-six are so scarce as to be near impossible to find. Of the three copies that have come to auction within the last thirty-five years only two were complete. Yet one of those had paper repairs affecting the text. The other, through a lesser auction house, had no auctioneer's condition report whatsoever, making it suspect.
"Printed paper instruments called volvelles provided astronomers with the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets, freeing them from performing lengthy calculations derived from planetary tables. Bassantin's work, a general overview of astronomy, partly copies Petrus Apianus's Astronomicum Cæsareum of 1540. The Irish astronomer William Molyneux (1656-1698) once owned this copy" (Journeys over Land and Sea : Astronomy and Navigation, Smithsonian Institution).
"The size of this volume and the extent of its illustrations and ornamentation make this an unusually fine example of the attention given to the printing of scientific works at this periodÖThis is the principal work of Bassantin [d. 1568], a Scottish astronomer of considerable reputation. Settled in France at this period, he wrote in French, although he had difficulty with the language" (Harvard, French).
"James Bassantin (b. c. 1504 - d. 1568), astronomer and astrologer, was the son of the laird of Bassendean in the Merse, Berwickshire, and was born in the reign of James IV (r. 1488Ė1513). He entered the University of Glasgow at an early age, and, after finishing his studies in the humanities, devoted himself to mathematics and its related sciences, in which he acquired remarkable proficiency. To improve further in these subjects he travelled in the Low Countries, Switzerland, France, Italy, and Germany, before finally settling in France, first in Lyons and later in Paris, as a teacher of mathematics. His success there may have been because he was able to introduce new ideas and materials that he had learned in Germany and Italy exactly at the moment that a lack of modern methods in practical mathematics was felt in France. His major work, the Astronomique discours, first published in Lyons in 1557 (Latin trans. Lyons 1559, Geneva 1599), is an elaborately illustrated book with movable diagrams which describes the basic elements of astronomy and planetary motion based on the monumental Astronomicum Caesaream of Peter Apian (1540). Further evidence for the influence of German protestant astronomers on Bassantin is provided by his appeal to the authority of Melanchthon to justify his predictions to Sir Robert Melville.
"Slightly earlier, for the same publisher in Lyons in 1555, Bassantin had produced a revised and enlarged edition of the Paraphrase de l'astrolabe by Jacques Focard (1546) to which was added his ĎAmplification de l'usage de l'astrolabe'. The same text was also added to Guillaume Cavellat's 1558 Paris edition of Dominique Jacquinot's L'vsage de l'astrolabe (repr. 1559, 1573, 1598). Bassantin indeed may have been one of the two mutual friends of Jacquinot and Cavellat who revised the whole work. His ĎAmplification' concerned first the finding of the positions in ecliptic latitude of the moon, the planets, and the fixed stars, which even Stoefler said could not be found with the astrolabe, and second the use of the shadow square" (DNB).
Graesse I, 308. Adams B369. Brunet I, col. 692. Harvard, French, 47. Honeyman 244. Horblit Library 89.
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