Printing and the Mind of Man from Clavreuil

- by Michael Stillman


Printing and the Mind of Man from Clavreuil

Clavreuil of Paris and London has issued a catalogue of Printing and the Mind of Man. Wait. Hasn't that name already been taken? Yes it has, but this is a selection of books from that famous exhibition and even more famous catalogue. “Printing and the Mind of Man” was an exhibition that took place in London in 1963, focusing on both the various means of printing since the time of Gutenberg, and the important books themselves. In 1967, some of the organizers of the original exhibition put together a catalogue focused on just the books themselves. The full title of this catalogue, by John Carter and Percy Muir, better explains its purpose, Printing and the Mind of Man: A Descriptive Catalogue Illustrating the Impact of Print on the Evolution of Western Civilization during Five Centuries. These are the great books, or at least many of the greatest, of western civilization. They have made western civilization what it is, when it is at its best.


Clavreuil, with its similarly named catalogue, presents a wide selections of titles from the “PMM” catalogue. These are first or early editions. Naturally, there is nothing here but important and highly collectible books. They have presented detailed descriptions and images of the books, generally four pages of this quarto size catalogue. They provide both their own descriptions of the particular copy and the original PMM description of the book. These are a few selections.


We begin with the book that first opened the more distant parts of the world to the West. In this case, it was to the east, that coming centuries before Columbus sailed west. It was an inspiration to Columbus, a journey several centuries earlier, by a fellow Italian. Marco Polo and his father were Venetian merchants, his father already having traveled east when Marco began his 24-year journey away from home, traveling with his father and uncle. His travels took him to Arabia, the Holy Land, Persia, and finally China, where he served in the court of Kublai Kahn. As an emissary of the court, he traveled around China and to other countries including Burma, Japan, Tibet, Ceylon, southern India, Mongolia, and more. While a few other Europeans had gone that far before, Marco was the first to provide a detailed account of the land. His journey lasted from 1271-1295 and manuscript accounts circulated for many years before Gutenberg invented his press. When he finally returned, he was imprisoned by Genoans as Venice and Genoa were at war at the time. He used the opportunity to dictate his account to a fellow prisoner. This copy is the first French edition, La Description Geographique des Provinces & Villes plus Fameuses de l'Inde Orientale (The Geographical Description of the Most Famous Provinces and Cities of Eastern India), published in 1556. Marco may not have had everything right, perhaps at times relying on others or exaggerating, but PMM points out, “Marco Polo was the first to give anything approaching a correct and detailed account of China and the Far East,” his geographical knowledge largely confirmed by later mapping. Priced at 120,000€ (euros, or approximately $120,918 in U.S. dollars).


There were some sea explorations prior to Columbus, notably Alvise Cadamos in 1455-1456 along the west African coast, but it was with Columbus that the explorations really exploded. In 1507 came the first thorough compilation of exploration voyages made as of that time. It was compiled by Antonio Fracanzano da Montalbaddo. His book is Sensuyt le Nouveau Monde et Navigations, an early edition in French published circa 1515-1523. It includes an account of Cadamos' voyages, the three of Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci's third voyage to Brazil, that of Vasco da Gama, and more. This book opened the West's eyes to all sorts of new and only recently discovered lands. 220,000€ (US $221,482).


PMM describes this next work as “A monument in this history of European thought, the acme of the age of reason; a prime force in undermining the ancien régime and in heralding the French Revolution...” It adds that it is also “a classic example of how not to arrange a work of reference.” We can forgive that shortcoming as this was a major force in advancing knowledge and humanitarian values. This is the Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert. It was a project undertaken by Diderot, who wrote over a thousand of the articles himself, and the more famous d'Alembert, who joined and helped recruit another 200 contributing writers. The first volume was published in 1751, the last in 1780. Along the way, the heat began to build. The forward-thinking attitude of the writers led to condemnation by the French court, the judiciary, and the Pope. It was banned by the French Attorney General. In 1759, d'Alembert bowed out of writing except for articles relating to mathematics. However, interest and subscriptions grew as fast as the condemnations. Diderot managed to find ways to continue writing and publishing. The Encyclopédie covered every imaginable subject, as an encyclopedia should, with experts from a myriad of fields providing articles. Clavreuil describes this copy as “almost certainly the finest example in private hands.” It contains 35 volumes, 17 of text, 11 of plates, 5 of supplements and 2 of tables. 850,000€ (US $856,496).


The world goes around, but it wasn't always that way. It used to be that we were stationary while the rest of the universe circled around us. We were important then. Nicolaus Copernicus disabused us of that delusion. He imagined a heliocentric universe, Earth spinning on its axis and, along with the other planets, revolving around the sun. His book is De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), published in 1543. It wasn't as controversial as it became in Galileo's time as people tended to look at the idea as odd and unbelievable, not a threat to their religious systems. Besides which, a cautious editor added a preface saying this theory was just a calculating device to show how these spheres move, not that they actually behaved in the manner Copernicus described. Copernicus also avoided the attacks Galileo suffered by conveniently dying shortly before publication. It should be noted that Aristarchus developed a heliocentric theory of the universe almost two millennia before Copernicus, but he was essentially ignored and forgotten long ago. 2,500,000€ (US $2,519,800).


If we are living in the best of all possible worlds, then not all that much is possible. That was the explanation for things that appear to be wrong with this world by the 18th century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz. It was that philosophy that became the subject of one of the greatest satires ever written. This book is Candide, ou L'Optimise, Traduit de l'allemand de le Mr. Docteur Ralph (Candide, or the Optimism, Translated from the German of Mr. Doctor Ralph). The book is generally known simply as Candide and there was no Mr. Doctor Ralph. The author was Voltaire and he wished to stay anonymous, realizing his attack on the crown and the church would not be well-received by authority. Voltaire attacked the absurdity of the idea that this is the best possible world by putting poor, innocent Candide through all sorts of horrible adventures. Voltaire even includes some real events such as the Seven Years' War and the Lisbon earthquake. All the while, his mentor and companion, Dr. Pangloss, repeats the best of all worlds motto. Eventually, Candide concludes it's time to stop trying to find all of these wonderful things and sticks to tending his garden. Offered is a first edition first printing. 45,000€ (US $45,356).


Clavreuil may be reached as follows:


London. Stéphane Clavreuil Rare Books, +44 (0) 798 325 2200 or


Paris. Librairie Clavreuil, +33 (0) 1 43 26 97 69 or