1613 Basilius Besler Set of Books, "Hortus Eystettensis"

Value (2010) | $250,000 Auction$350,000 Auction

These books were owned by our great-grandmother. As far as going back beyond that, we're not sure how long they've been in the family.

Well, these are two really quite amazing books. They're a two-part set of botanical illustrations. The title is Hortus Eystettensis, which is just a somewhat convoluted Latin name which means "The Garden of Eichstätt." In the early 17th century, the bishop of Eichstätt wanted to create a garden that had a comprehensive view of all of the flowering plants around the world. And in fact, they managed to have live examples from America, from the Ottoman Empire and from Asia Minor. And he hired a pharmacist from Nuremberg named Basilius Besler to create these volumes to record his holdings in his comprehensive garden. Besler then went ahead and hired a series of engravers to produce these absolutely phenomenally large size plates of plants and flowering objects from his garden. The books were ordered in the process of the seasons, as various flowers came to bloom and the engravers were able to capture the works in their various stages. There were botanical books of some note prior to Besler's production of this book, but most of those were scientific works. Besler's great discovery, or production, was to try to fill the entire plates with examples from the garden, and they are now highly, highly prized for their aesthetic qualities rather than, necessarily, for their scientific qualities.


The books were an absolutely monumental task to produce. It took Besler and about ten engravers, we believe, almost 16 years to produce the entire series.


There were over a thousand plants illustrated in the books, of 600 different species, and there are 367 plates throughout the two volumes produced in 1613, which, of course, is the age of Galileo and Shakespeare. So it really changed the nature of botanical illustration. There were only 300 copies of this uncolored version produced. There are a handful of examples that did have hand-colored illustrations by craftsmen that were produced for noblemen and others around the country. But nevertheless, 300 original copies. Most of them ended up in institutions. We have a couple of plates with some tears that have been repaired, but they haven't been trimmed, as sometimes happens, and they have very little spotting or discoloration, which makes them very, very rare. Now, in many cases, you see the individual prints from volumes that might have been defective or broken up over the centuries, and those can sell for anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 on an individual basis. It's very rare to have complete copies like this that have been undisturbed and in essentially the original condition. Because they are so important, a set like this, if it were to be offered at an auction today, would probably have a value of $250,000 to $350,000.

Wow. That is amazing.

It is actually possibly the most valuable book we've seen on the Roadshow. I really appreciate your bringing it in.

Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

Appraisal Details

Appraised value (2010)
$250,000 Auction$350,000 Auction
San Diego, CA (June 12, 2010)

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