First European printed book to contain Chinese and Japanese characters, 1575

IESVS. CARTAS QVE LOS PADRES Y HERMANOS DE LA COMPAÑIA DES IESUS, que andan en los reynos de Iapon… Alcala: 1575.

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IESVS. CARTAS QVE / LOS PADRES Y HER- / MANOS DE LA COMPA- / ÑIA DES IESUS, que andan en los reynos / de Iapon escriuierion a los de la mis- / ma Compañia, desde el año de / mil y quinientos y quare[n]ta / y nueue, hasta el de mil / y quinientos y se- / tenta y vno. [Letters from the fathers and brothers of the Society of Jesus, who went to the kingdoms of Japan, written in the years 1549 to 1571 to those of the same society.] EN LAS QVALES SE DA NO / ticia de las varias costumbres y idolatrias / de aquella gentilidad: y se cuenta el / principio y successo y bondad / de los Christianos de / aquellas partes. [In which news is given of the various customs and idolatries of that gentility, as well as fidelity to their principles and success and benevolence of the Christians of those parts is told.] With numerous charming wood-cut initials. Alcala [de Henares]: Iuan Iñiguez de Lequerica 1575.

4mo. [5 (of 8 or 9) not paginated leaves (leaves 3-6 with dedication and 2 prefaces)], 1-315, [1] pages, [4 (of 6) not paginated leaves (table of contents)]. Contemporary limp vellum with manuscript title to spine and marbled boards.

First Spanish edition of »Cartas que os Padres e Irmãos da Companhia de Iesus«, the first European printed book ever to contain Chinese and Japanese characters (a total of 12 are depicted on leaf 72 v). For a long time bibliographers wrongly had quoted the books of Escalante (1577) and Mendoza (1585) about China, or the atlas of Ortelius (1584) to be the first publications with Chinese and Japanese characters.

Contents: This scarce and important work was originally published in Portuguese language as a collection of letters written by missionaries of the Society of Jesus from Japan between 1549 and 1571, printed by Antonio de Marijs in Coimbra in the year 1570. Present Spanish edition is substantially augmented with additional material not contained in the 1570 Portuguese print: Folios 1-30 contain a biographical account on Francis Xavier, the first Christian missionary in Japan: “La vida del padre maestro Francisco Xauier…“, followed by „Y relacion de las cosas de la India, que imprimio en latin Manuel de Acosta…“ with remarks on (in order of appearance) Goa, Cochin, Daman, Ceylon, Comorin, Bassein, Ormuz, Ethiopia, Inambay and Manomotapa, Malaca, the Moluccas, Ambonia, Solor,Macassar etc. Also added are 10 letters (to make it a total of 87), written between 1567 and 1571, and a brief account of the islands of Japan. The letters derive from Francis Xavier, Cosme de Torres, Juan Fernandez, Luis de Almeida, Luigi Froes, Gaspar Vilela, Melchior de Figueredo and others.

Provenance: Copy from the library of the counts of Harrach with their oval collection stamp "Ex bibliotheca Viennensi" on dedication leaf (5 recto). The Harrach's are an Austrian and Czech noble family and were among the most prominent in the strongly Catholic Habsburg Empire.

Condition: Leaves 1 (introducing note), 2 (title leaf), 3 (introducing notes), 8 and 9 (dedication in memoriam to Pope Pius IV.), as well as the 1st (colophon recto, wood-cut with crucified Jesus verso) and last (list of errata) leaves of the appendix are missing; leaves 1-4 Book block with tight cut at top edge, therefore some pages with faults at top caption and pagination; former tear at leaf 146 enforced, margins of not paginated leaves 5-9 and the last 4 leaves with contemporary restoration using mould paper, last leaf with missing edges at corners; leaf 3 with 2cm tear at upper right corner, leaf 9 missing, 10 missing lower part, leaves 24-24 wormy at bottom edge (no text loss), printer’s wrong pagination at 29 (printed „25“), 52 (printed „25“), 83 (printed „53“), 163 (printed „159“), some pages with hand-written marginals, some other pages very slightly foxy. Hand-written short title on 1st fly leaf recto.

Holdings, Rarity: USTC shows 36 copies in institutional holdings worldwide, Laurens Kirishitan Bunko Library another 6 holdings, where of 2 in the US and 4 in Japan.

Exceedingly rare nowadays in trade though, Jahrbuch der Bücherpreise (1906-38), Jahrbuch der Auktionspreise (1950ff.), Auktionspreise online (ca. 1988ff.) and Drouot (2004ff.) quote 2 auctions records only since 1906 (1989, 1962). ABPC shows not results at all for the U.S. and U.K. since 1972.

References: Cordier, Japonica, 67f.; Carayon, 591; Laures 140; Palau, 46311; Salvá 3282; Streit IV, 1496 and 1519; Maggs Bros.: Printed Books and Manuscripts on Japan. London: 1926, p. 4.

Additional information

Weight 2 kg