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SEBA, Albertus.

(1665 – 1736)

(Born: Eetzel, near Friedeburg in Ost-Frieze, Germany, 13 May 1665; Died: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 3 May 1736) German apothecary & naturalist.

Seba was born a peasant without fortune or prospects. The master of the village school noticed his eagerness to learn, however, and gave him instruction in Latin and all else he thought useful. After benefiting from these lessons, Seba was able to become an apprentice to an apothecary in Neustadt-Goedens, a town near his birth place. After his apprentiship, Seba moved to Amsterdam, where he found work in the flourishing pharmaceutical industry. Through connections he made there, Seba was offered the opportunity to travel abroad. He made two profitable voyages acting as agent for the famous Dutch East-India Company. Upon his return from the second venture, he settled in Amsterdam, where he married and established his own successful apothecary shop.

Biographical references: Aa, Biographisch Woordenboek, 1852-78. Ahlrichs, E., Albertus Seba. Zu seinem 250. Geburtstag. Aurich, Verlag der Ostfriesischen Landschaft, 1986. [1]-48 p., illus. [Published as: Ostfriesische Familienkunde, Heft 6. ISBN: 3925365087.]. BAB: 619, 191-195. Biografisch Woordenboek Nederland. Biographie Universelle: 38, 606. DBA: I 1167, 41-89. Deutsche Apotheker Biographie: 2, 619. Hirsching, Historisch-literarisches Handbuch, 1794-1815. Jöcher, Gelehrten-Lexikon, 1750-51. Kobus, Biographisch Woordenboek, 1886. Müsch, I., Das Naturalienkabinett von Albertus Seba. 2001. [Not yet published. ISBN: 3822855057.]. NNBW. Poggendorff: 2, col. 884. WBI.

Locupletissimi, 1734

1. Latin & Dutch [or French], 1734-65.
[In black:] Locupletissimi | [in red:] Rerum | [in black:] Naturalium | [in red:] Thesauri | [in black:] Accurata Descripto, | Et | Iconibus Artificiosissimis | [in red:] Expressio, | [in black:] Per | [in red:] Universam Physices Historiam. | [in black:] Opus, | Cui, In Hoc Rerum Genere, Nullum Par Exstitit. | Ex Toto Terrarum Orbe Collegit, | Digessit, Descripsit, Et Depingendum Curavit | [in red:] Albertus Seba, | [in black:] Etzela Oostfrisius, | Academiæ Caesareæ Leopoldino Carolinæ Naturæ Curiosorum | Collega Xenocrates Dictus; Societatis Regiæ Anglicanæ, | Et Instituti Bononiensis, Sodalis. | [in red:] Tomus I. [-IV]. | [vignette] | [in black:] Amstelaedami, | [in red:] Apud Janssonio-Waesbergios, | & J. Wetstenium, & Gul. Smith. | [in black:] MDCCXXXIV. [-MDCCLXV].

4 vols. [Vol 1: 1734] 2°: π2 χ1 *-********2 A-2X2 2Y1; 107l.; [36], 178 p., frontispiece (portrait of Seba), 111 plates.; [Vol 2: 1735] 2°: π2 **-********2 ********1 A-2P2 2Q2; 94l.; [34], 154 p., 114 plates.; [Vol 3: 1758] 2°: π2 *-*****2 ******1 A-3G2; 119l.; [26], 212 p., 116 plates.; [Vol 4: 1765] 2°: π2 *-**********2 ***********1 A-3K2 3L1; 131l. [4], 42, 214, [2] p., 108 plates. Page size: 540 x 370 mm.

Contents: [Vol 1] [2 pgs], Half title page, verso blank.; [Frontispiece by Tanjé facing the title page]; [2 pgs], Title page, verso blank.; [2 pgs], Dedication to the Academia Caesarea Leopoldino-Carolina.; Portrait of Seba by Jak. Houbraken after J.M. Quinkhard, verso blank.; [2 pgs], Preface by Herman Boerhaave, dated Leyden, 27 September 1733.; [6 pgs], Latin preface by Seba.; [5 pgs], Dutch preface.; [3 pgs], Poem in Latin by H.D. Gaubius, who translated the text of the work to Latin.; [2 pgs], Poem in Dutch by J.A. van Orsoy.; [9 pgs], Index.; [1 pg], "Rerum."; [1]-178, Text.

[Vol 2] [2 pgs], Half title page, verso blank.; [2 pgs], Title page, verso blank.; [2 pgs], Letter in Latin by Jacobus Baierus, dated 1734.; [2 pgs], Poem in German by Jacob Baier.; [8 pgs], Latin preface.; [8 pgs], Dutch preface.; [10 pgs], Index in Dutch.; [1]-154, Text.

[Vol 3] [2 pgs], Half title page, verso blank.; [2 pgs], Title page, verso blank.; [2 pgs], Latin preface.; [2 pgs], Dutch preface.; [17 pgs], Index with Latin and Dutch juxaposed.; [1 pg], "Lugduni Batavorum Typis Eliae Luzac, Juniores MDCCLXIX."; [1]-212, Text.

[Vol 4] [2 pgs], Half title page, verso blank.; [2 pgs], Title page, verso blank.; I-IV, Latin preface.; V-VIII, Dutch preface.; 9-42, "Index-Bladwyzer."; [1]-214, Text.; 129-176, Latin index.; 177-226, French index.; 227-214, Dutch index.

Very scarce. This magnificiant work, commonly called Seba's Thesaurus, is a well know illustrated natural history, which in its colored form, is one of the most sumptous and complete records of any 18th century rariteitkammern. Its purpose was to describe and picture the natural history of the known world. The 449 plates (175 double-page) by P. Tanjé, A. van der Laan, F. de Bakker, A. van Buysen jun., De La Croix, J. Folkema, W. Jongman, F. Morellon, K.D. Pütter, J. Punt and J. van der Speyk show specimens from all branches of natural history including some minerals and fossils often in fantastic if not bizzare groupings. It was the product of the golden age of Dutch bookmaking, and it is one of its greatest examples.

The text is known in two issues. The most common being Latin with a parallel French translation and the rarer issue consisting of the same Latin but with the French text being replaced by one in Dutch. The commentary describes in an unscientific though complex method Seba's arrangement of the specimens in his museum. However, it is not the text that makes this work desireable, but the astonishing and numerous plates depiciting at natural size many thousands of individual natural history specimens contained in the collection. The first volume describes and illustrates various leaves, fruits, roots that have been dissected to illustrate their internal structure, strange and exotic plants, rare animals most notable being the winged species of dogs, cats, rats, mice, squirrels, beautiful birds from the East and West Indies together with their nests, exotic snakes, lizards, crocodiles, iguanas, chameleons, salamanders, rats, mice, toads and frogs. The second volume shows a variety of extraordinary snakes, adders, lizards together with their anatomical structure, collected from different parts of the world. Also included are descriptions of various fossils and exotic plants. The third volume deals primarily with marine treasures such as beautiful shells, conches, starfish, marine plants, corals, sea spiders, sea mosses. The final volume depicts rare insects gathered from all corners of the earth as well as many varieties of precious minerals and ores and petrified wood.

Seba's early studies had given him a taste for natural history, and using the large fortune he had accumulated by his earlier travels he began collecting natural history specimens. He built a remarkable collection that became famous throughout Europe. Upon its merits, Seba was elected to membership in London's Royal Society, the Imperial Academy of Vienna, and other societies. In 1716, when Russia's Peter the Great [??-??] visited Amsterdam for a second time, he purchased the museum for the tremendous sum of 15,000 guilders and removed it to St. Petersburg, where it became the nucleus of a natural history collection in that city's academy of science. However, Seba could not contain his desire to collect, and so he embarked almost immediately on forming another collection, which by many accounts outshown his first effort within a few years.

As an apothecary, Seba was among the first to board ships newly arrived from overseas to sell and dispense medicines to the sick and exhausted crews. During this time, he would enquire as to what curiosities they had brought back from their voyage, and many times this would allow Seba to make a quick purchase. Duplicate items were then resold to his fellow collectors for profit. Seba elected to perserve a memory of this collection for posterity and embarked after a time to prepare an elaborate illustrated catalog.

Seba seems to have written the basic text for the first volumes of the Thesaurus in Dutch, but he died in 1736 before all the volumes had been completed. Thereafter many other authors would have a hand in the works completion. The most important of these were P. Artedi [1705-1735] who wrote the descriptions of the fishes, P. van Musschenbroek [1692-1761] and H.D. Graubius [??-??]. Engel (1937) reproduces the agreement between Seba and the two firms of booksellers mentioned in the initial imprint and Landwehr (1976) provides a highly interesting translation of the original prospectus for the work. From these two researchers it can be said that Seba and the publishers were each to pay one third of the costs and after some concessions to Seba for providing the copy, they would equally share the profits. The work was published at 40 guilders a volume plain and 200 guilders colored. With Seba's death in 1736, and only two volumes thus far published and volume three only partialy complete, the work seemed destined never to be finished.

Only through the attention of Seba's son-in-law, Van Ommeting was the work carried through. But in order to pay the remaining publication costs, Seba's fabulous museum which upto that time had remained intact had to be auctioned. This occured sixteen years after Seba's death on 14 April 1752 and subsequent days. The entire sale realized 24,440 guilders (Engel, 1961), more than enough money for the Thesuraus to be completed.

Of mineralogical interest are plates 100-103 of volume four. Here are depicted over 100 mineral specimens, many of them fine examples and obviously the product of careful selection. They are mostly metallic species containing gold, silver, mercury, iron and copper. The golds came from Sumatra, Japan, Hungary, Borneo, Siam, Cuba, Ceylon and "New Spain." The silver and silver ores are listed as coming from Norway, Japan, Guinea, Germany, Siam, Hungary, Arabia and Virginia. As Wilson (1994) points out, "Despite its relatively small size and clearly subsidiary status amid his much vaster array of plant and animal remains, [Seba's] mineral collection was suprisingly sophisticated and broad-based in its range of localities."

English, 2001: Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities by Irmgard Muesch, Jes Rust, Rainer Willmann. Illustrated by Den Haag Konlinklijke Bibliotheek Staff 600pp. [ISBN: 3822855057]. Photographic reprint of the 4 volumes into a single book with extensive commentary.

Bibliographical references: BL [457.g.1-4.]. Biographie Universelle: 38, 606. Dance, Shell Collecting, 1966: 40-41. Dean, Bibliography of Fishes, 1916: 2, 433. Engel, Dutch Zoological Cabinets, 1986. Engel, H., "The Life of Albertus Seba", Svenska Linné-Sälskapets Årsskrift, 20, (1937), 75-100. Engel, H., "The Sale Catalogue of the Cabinets of Natural History of Albertus Seba (1752). `A curious Document from the period of Naturae Curiosi'", Bull. Res. Council Israel, Sect. B., Zoology, 10B, (1961), 119-31. Freilich Sale Catalog: no. 490. Holthius, L.B. (1969). Klauber, L.M., 1945. Landwehr, Studies in Dutch Books, 1976: 67-70 & 184-185. LKG: XV 8. Murray, Museums, 1904: 1, 115-16. Nissen (BBI): no. 1825. Nissen (ZBI): no. 3793. NUC: 535, 599 [NS 0370837]. Plesch, Stifung für Botanik Auction, 1975-6: no. 862. Albertus Seba's Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri (1734-1765) and the Planches De Seba (1827-1831). 1969. 35 p. [Published as: Netherlands Rijksmuseum Van Natuurlijke Historie Te Leiden Zoologische Mededelingen, 43-19.]. Stillwell, Awakening Interest in Science, 1970: 106. Wilson, History of Mineral Collecting, 1994: 115-16, 197. Wood, Literature of Vertebrate Zoology, 1931: p. 560.

2. French, 1827-8 [Reissue of plates].
Planches de Seba, Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri Accurate Descriptio. Accompagnées d'un texte explicatif mis au courant de la science et rédigé par une réunion de Savans. Le Bon Cuvier, ... Ouvrage publié par les soins de M.E. Guérin. Paris, F.G. Levrault, 1827-28.

4 vols. in 2. 2°. Title from the wrapper.

Very rare. Reprint of the plates from Seba's Thesauri with a new commentary by Felix Édouard Guérin-Méneville [1799-1874]. The only part of the text published was issued with Livre 5, 1827, as an explanation of plates 1-48 of volume 3.

Bibliographical references: BL [no copy listed]. NUC: 535, 599 [NS 0370839]. Albertus Seba's Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri (1734-1765) and the Planches De Seba (1827-1831). 1969. 35 p. [Published as: Netherlands Rijksmuseum Van Natuurlijke Historie Te Leiden Zoologische Mededelingen, 43-19.].

Catalogus, 1752

3. Dutch, 1752 [Sale catalog].
Catalogus | Van de Uitmuntende | Cabinetten, | Met allerley soorten van ongemeene | schoone Gepolyste | Hoorns, | Dublet-Schelpen, | Coraal en Zeegewassen; | Benevcus het zeldzame en vermaarde | Cabinet van | Gediertens in Flessen | En | Naturalia, | En veele Raare | Anatomische Preparata | Van den Professor Ruysch: | Als mede een Verzameling van diverse | Mineralen | Versteende Zaaken, Agaate Boom- | steenen, Edel Gesteentens, | En verscheide andere | Rariteiten. | Met veel moeite en kosten in een reeks van | Jaaren vergadert. | En nagelaten door wylen den Heere | Albertus Seba, | Lid van dt Keizerlyke Leopoldische Carolinischen en Koningl. | Engelsche Societeit der Wetenschappen, als ook | der Academie van Bolniēn. | Dewelke Verkogt zullen worden door de Makelaars Th. Sluy- | zer, J. Schus en N. Blinkvliet, op Vrydag den 14. April | 1752. en volgende dagen, 's morgens ten 9, en's namid - | dagsten 3 uuren, te Amsterdam, ten huize van Huy- | bert de Wit, Castelyn in 't Oudezyds Heeren Lo- | gement. | Zullende alles des Woensdags voor de Verkooping | van een ieder kannen gezien werden. | De Catalogus is te bekomen by de | voornoemde Makelaars.

8°: 51, 38, 22 p.

Rare. Auction sale catalog of Seba's collections that took place on 14 April 1752 and the following days. Included in the sale were anatomical specimens prepared by the great physician, Freidrich Ruysch, as well as stuffed animals and birds, small animals preserved in alcohol, dried flowers, nuts and woods of foreign lands, corals, etc. A major component of the sale were the lots containing the minerals, stones, petrified objects, agates, bloodstones, precious and semi-precious gemstones.

Bibliographical references: Biographie Universelle: 38, 606. Engel, H., "The Life of Albertus Seba", Svenska Linné-Sälskapets Årsskrift, 20, (1937), 75-100. Engel, H., "The Sale Catalogue of the Cabinets of Natural History of Albertus Seba (1752). `A curious Document from the period of Naturae Curiosi'", Bull. Res. Council Israel, Sect. B., Zoology, 10B, (1961), 119-31. Holthius, L.B. (1969). Klauber, L.M., 1945. Murray, Museums, 1904: 1, 115-16. Wilson, History of Mineral Collecting, 1994: 224.