THEATRUM CHEMICUM BRITANNICUM by Elias Ashmole (Leather Bound Limited Edition)


THEATRUM CHEMICUM BRITANNICUM by Elias Ashmole (Leather Bound Limited Edition)

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Deluxe Leather Edition: Full tanned goat with gilt-stamped spine bands and central ‘grotesque’ ornament to boards. Ebony and gilt leather spine label, silk bookmark and hand-marbled endpapers. Limited to 200 copies

From the publisher:

The Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum is a major collection of English alchemical texts which encapsulate the arcana of the Magnum Opus in poetic form. Originally gathered by Elias Ashmole from several rare medieval manuscripts, the text represents the largest collection of verse concerning the production of the Philosopher’s Stone to be brought together in one volume.

Ashmole’s pride in English literature was amplified through the consideration he gave to the project. In deciding which texts should be included in the book, he details ancient British examples among the Druids & the Bardic Tradition and explains that poesy is much better than mere verse.

Here we find well-known names in the alchemical corpus, among whom are included: Thomas Norton, George Ripley, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Daston, Pearce the Black Monke, Richard Carpenter, Abraham Andrews, Thomas Charnock, William Bloomefield, Edward Kelley, John Dee, Thomas Robinson, William Backhouse, John Gower, John Lydgate, W. Redman, and several anonymous authors. This who’s who of English alchemists is placed in historical context by a Prolegomena by Ashmole, which supports his thesis that England may be proud of its alchemical literary heritage. In addition, Ashmole has provided ample annotations and commentary on each of the texts as supplementary material in the concluding chapter of the book. The text has a new introduction by William Kiesel and a full bibliography of alchemical and bibliographic materials used in researching the text.

This complete edition of the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum goes beyond the mere reprinting of the original pages as past facsimiles have done. Using the original errata sheets provided by Ashmole, the entire text has been corrected and reset in a more readable typeface and features clear reproductions of the original engravings produced by Robert Vaughan. In addition, this edition features a more complete version of the Breviary of Natural Philosophy by Thomas Charnock by employing a complete manuscript of the text not available to Ashmole in 1652. This is the most ambitious publishing project embraced by Ouroboros Press in its years of laboring to bring source works of western esotericism to scholars and collectors alike. Over a dozen individuals and institutions worked hard to bring the book into this complete and corrected edition. This is fine esoteric book arts at its best, a volume Elias Ashmole himself would be proud of.

The Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum features several engraved plates by Robert Vaughan [not to be confused with Thomas Vaughan, author of Lumen de Lumen etc.]. C. H. Josten notes ‘these engravings are probably the earliest engraved reproductions of miniatures from an illuminated manuscript.’ The manuscripts in question are preserved in the British Library. The engravings are certainly among the most beautifully rendered in the alchemical corpus. Heralding from the emblematic tradition, such engravings are by now hallmarks of the famous alchemical books extant. According to Ashmole’s diary, Vaughan actually came to stay with him where the artist ‘wrought and finished all the Cutts’. The images themselves feature several alchemical scenes depicting famous alchemists, work in laboratories, astrological charts, as well as allegorical themes, and the larger images are each surrounded by foliated borders which are also populated with animals, insects, and birds. The book also has a few engraved ornamental grotesques, alchemical dragons, trees, and fleurons scattered throughout the text.

The Folding Plate: John Goddard’s Diagram

In addition to Vaughan’s engravings there is a folding plate by another artist which is to be found in the Compound of Alchemie, or Twelve Gates by George Ripley. This typographical diagram labeled ‘Here followeth the the Figure conteyning all the secrets of the Treatise both great & small’ was originally rendered by John Goddard. Again in keeping with the original, the folding plate is included in the Ouroboros Press edition with the Latin parts translated into English by Darius Klein.

Colophon: The typeface used on this complete edition of Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, Williams Caslon Text designed by William Berkson, is based on an early font cut by William Caslon who in the 18th century made British printers’ dependence on Dutch type a thing of the past. Caslon’s typeface was also popular in America and it was utilized by Mary Katherine Goddard of Baltimore for the printing of the Declaration of Independence. The Fleurons Garamont ornaments, based on 16th century originals, were designed by Bruce Rogers, the famous American book and type designer. The fine engravings by Robert Vaughan were scanned from a first edition copy of the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum which was originally owned by Isaac Newton.


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