Bundles of letters

The Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) lists editions of Leeuwenhoek's volumes not noted in Dobell's and Schierbeek's bibliographies. It confirms Dobell's consternation in calling all these versions "the despair of all authors who have had occasion to refer to them" (1932, p. 388).

A search of antiquarian book and auction catalogs turns up even more variations. For example:

  • The 2012 catalog for the Amsterdam Book Fair offers the complete Brieven in 6 volumes for €40,000: "Although various assemblies of Dutch texts appear in various guises, a complete set such as this, in first issue, is extremely uncommon."
  • Sophia Rare Books recently sold another 6-volume set for $75,000.
  • The photo on the right (click to enlarge) shows a 4-volume set offered by Buddenbrooks in the U.S. for $22,500.

Dobell did not account for many variants that have since turned up. For example, Dutch collector Bert Degenaar owns an almost complete set that was catalogued by Huib Zuidervaart (personal communication) in 2015. Degenaar owns Dobell's #1 through #19 (except #17 and missing Letter 33) but not #20. That is, he owns all of the parts of Dobell's Brieven or Werken, but he owns a very differenly collated Werken. Similarly, of the Latin editions, he owns all but Anatomia Seu Interiora Rerum (Dobell's #22 and #23) without owning the Opera Omnia per se. In his four volumes, the component volumes are arranged diffently than Dobell's. Dr. Zuidervaart, when cataloguing Degenaar's collection, found two variants not described by Dobell.

Dobell 1. Ondervindingen en Beschouwingen der onsigthare geschapene waarheden contains Letters 32 and 33. Degenaar's edition contains Letters 32 and 39, unnumbered and paged separately.

Dobell 2. Ondervindingen en Beschouwingen ... van de Eyerstok contains Letters 37 and 39. Degenaar's edition contains Letters 37 only.

Below are other examples of various collections, which Dobell acknowledged without any further detail.

In 2013, Dominic Winter Auctions (Gloucestershire UK) offered this lot of vellum-bound books (right; click to enlarge), estimating a sale price of £600 - 800. It is described as containing five of Leeuwenhoek's collected volumes 3 - 7: Derde Vervolg, Vierde, Vijfde, Sesde, and Sevende.That's half of Werken Deel II (Derde and Vierde) and all of Werken Deel III (Vijfde, Sesde, and Sevende).  It does not say which was in each of the three books.

The printer is listed as Delft: Henrik van Kroonevelt, 1693-1702. Kroonevelt printed nine volumes, these five and four others: three reprints of previously published letters and the Latin equivalent of Sesde Vervolg, titled Continuatio Arcanorum Naturae detectorum ... .

A German web, Milestone of Science Books, was selling an association copy for €12,500, two books once owned by Thomas Molyneux, who visited Leeuwenhoek in 1685. They were four works bound in two volumes (image on right; click to enlarge), the complete set of Leeuwenhoek's letters 28 to 107 in Latin. They list it as Leiden: 1695. 1st Edition. However, it's not that simple.

The first volume was the same as Degenaar's first:

I. Arcana naturae detecta. Leiden: Henrik van Kroonevelt, 1695. [8], 568, [14] pages, including engraved additional title. Letters 32-33, 37, 39-41, and 61-92. Dobell's 25.

The second volume has three of Leeuwenhoek's bound together:

II. Arcana naturae, ope & beneficio exquisitissimorum microscopiorum. ... una cum discursu & ulteriori dilucidatione; epistolis suis ad ... philosophorum collegium ... editio altera. Leiden: Cornelius Boutestein, 1696. [12], 3-58 (i.e. 64), 258 (i.e. 260) pp., including etched additional title by Romeyn de Hooghe. Letters 28-31, 34-36, 38, and 42-52. Dobell's 22.

III. Continuatio epistolarum ... editio altera. Leiden: Cornelius Boutestein, 1696. [2], 124 pp. Letters 53-60. Dobell's 24(a) Second Latin edition.

IV. Continuatio arcanorum naturae detectorum. Leiden: Henrik van Kroonevelt, 1697. [2], 192, [8] pp. Letters 93-107. Dobell's 26.

They note about II: "Dobell 25(a), confusingly states that this is the second edition of Arcana naturae detecta (1695), whereas it is in fact the second edition of Anatomia seu interiora rerum (1687)." In any event, this collection is not listed separately in Dobell's bibliography.

Who actually published it? The bookseller lists it as Leiden in 1695, yet the volumes were published separately from 1695 to 1697 and the final letter (Leeuwenhoek's # 107) was written to  Hendrik van Bleyswijk on September 27, 1696. The two volumes from 1696 were originally printed in Leiden by Boutesteyn. The other two volumes, from 1695 and 1697, were printed by Kroonevelt, who lived next door to Leeuwenhoek on the Hippolytusbuurt in Delft. Because the Delft volumes were later, I suspect that the volumes in the photo were bound in Delft in 1697. Bookbinding was a separate craft, and Kroonevelt or Leeuwenhoek would have purchased that service separately. Who provided it, we'll never know.

In 2012, the Dutch company Antiquariaat Junk B.V. offered a price of $6,300 for a volume of Leeuwenhoek's letters (right; click to enlarge) once owned by the library of the Berlin Academy of Science and then by E. von Baer (1792 – 1876), the German scientist and embryologist.

It has Anatomia seu interiora rerum printed in Leiden by Boutesteyn in 1687 and is described as "pp. (6), 64 (mispaged 58); 260 (mispaged 258), with an engraved frontispiece after a drawing by Romeyn de Hooghe." The misspellings in the title ("inanimarum" and "nebeficio"), the contents (Letters 28-31, 34-36, 38, 42-52), and the mispagination make it Dobell 22. However, in this volume it is bound up with Continuatio Epistolarum, printed by Boutesteyn in 1689 and containing Letters 53-60, Dobell 24. But not quite Dobell 24.

The catalogue notes that "All letters are in the first issue of the first Latin edition [that is, Dobell 24] apart from letters 38, 42, and 43 which are in the second issue." It goes on to note that the first issue of those three letters were published in 1685 [that is, Dobell 21].

In short, this volume, printed in 1689, is not described by Dobell, though its two parts are.

These Latin editions are not available in many libraries, but they are online and searchable at ECHO – European Cultural Heritage Online. They contain the same images as the Dutch editions, often in cleaner scans. The title page for volume 1 is on the right (click to enlarge).

Opera omnia seu arcana naturae ope exactissimorum microscopiorum detecta, experimentis variis comprobata : epistolis ad varios viros, ut et ad integram, quae Londini floret, sapientem Societatem, cujus membrum est, datis, comprehensa, & quatuor tomis distincta; 

What is here as vol. 2 is the letters in the Send-Brieven that Leeuwenhoek wrote at the end of his career. In every other ordering, this volume comes last even though it was printed first, the Dutch in 1718 and this Latin translation in 1719. Looking at ECHO's scans, I can't see anything that indicates theirs is an ordering based on marks or texts on the volumes themselves. Thus, it is perhaps an error on ECHO's part. Not that I blame them, keeping in mind Dobell's "often a matter of grievous difficulty".

Because of their inaccessibility to modern readers, Lens on Leeuwenhoek does not treat the content of these Latin translations.

I invite anyone with knowledge of other bundles to contact me.