Treasures of the Edward Worth Library

Edward Worth (1676–1733), a physician in early eighteenth-century Dublin, bequeathed his collection of over 4,300 volumes to Dr Steevens’ Hospital in 1723. It was a bold decision, for the hospital (of which Worth was a Trustee), was still at the building stage in 1723 and would only open a few months after Worth’s death in 1733. He did so, not only because he wanted to endow the new institution, but also because he was passionately devoted to the preservation of his collection and he guessed (rightly), that the books would be well preserved by the Governors of Dr Steevens’ Hospital. Visitors may step back in time by visiting his uniquely preserved library and see his treasures in their original glass-fronted book-cases.

Fig. 1. Portrait of Edward Worth (1676–1733).

Curating an exhibition on the treasures of any library is always difficult for there is always so much from which to choose but in the case of a library such as the Worth Library, this choice is even more difficult. What follows is a presentation of just a small number of the many highlights of the collection. Where possible, we will direct you to more extensive exhibitions on individual themes and items for at the Worth we are keen to share our many treasures online as much as possible. If you would like to visit the Worth Library just contact us to make an appointment – we love giving tours!


Worth’s oldest book: De Conservatione Sanitatis (Rome, 1475), of Benedetto Reguardati of Nursia (1398-1469) ‘miles et physicus’.


Fig. 2: Benedetto Reguardati, De Conservatione Sanitatis (Rome, 1475), 4o. Colophon.


One of the most frequent questions our visitors ask us is what is Worth’s oldest book? It is perhaps fitting that the book is a medical one, for the Worth Library is famous for being one of the earliest extant medical libraries in Ireland. Given Worth’s professional interests, the medical part of his collection is extensive and it reflects his eclectic interest in the many different philosophies of medicine of his time. His oldest book focusses on health regimen and is representative of the Galenic medical philosophy then prevalent in later fifteenth century Europe. De conservatione sanitatis (Rome, 1475) was written by Benedetto Reguardati (1398-1469), who was named after St Benedict of Nursia (480-543). It proved to be a popular text and by 1500 seven editions of the original Latin text had been printed. Worth’s copy was the first edition, published in Rome on 14 January 1475 in octavo by Giovanni Filippo de Lignamine. It had been written c. 1435-38 for the governor of the Mark of Ancona, Astorgio Agnesi (1391-1451), and though seemingly concerned with providing Agnesi with his own health manual, its general applications were obvious.


Fig 3: Benedetto Reguardati, De Conservatione Sanitatis (Rome, 1475), 4o. The interplay of manuscript and print.


Worth’s copy of the text demonstrates the interconnection between manuscript and text at the beginning of the printing revolution: Space is left for the ornamental drop capitals to be illustrated by hand, in this case with red ink. The binding of the volume is clearly later, dating to late seventeenth-century France with its characteristic marbled edges under gilt. This dating is confirmed not only on stylistic grounds but also by the inclusion of the inscription on the flyleaf: ‘Bibliotheca Colbertinae’, indicating that this book had once belonged to Louis XIV’s famous Finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683). Colbert’s extensive library was auctioned in Paris in 1728, just at the time Worth was assiduously buying books for his Library. Find out more about this book here and, if you are interested in book history, enjoy the free  FutureLearn MOOC on ‘The History of the Book in the Early Modern Period: 1450–1800’, an initiative of the Edward Worth Library and the staff of the departments of English and History at Trinity College Dublin.


Aristotle’s Organon (1495-1498)


Fig 4: Aristotle, Organon (Venice, 1495), 2o, Sig. A1v: dedication to Alberto Pio (1475–1531), Prince of Carpi.


Worth was a keen collector of early printing and was particularly fascinated by the Aldine press. He owned 85 items from the press, many printed by Aldus Manutius (d. 1515) himself, but undoubtedly the jewel in the crown was his Aldine Aristotle – the complete set of Aldus’ famous edition of the works of Aristotle. The Aristotle’s Organon was, as Aldus Manutius reminded Alberto Pio (1475-1531), Prince of Carpi, who had sponsored its printing, the vital key to unlocking knowledge. It was the basic text used at medieval universities and would certainly have been used by Aldus when instructing Pio when he was the latter’s tutor at Carpi. Many Latin translations of works by Aristotle (and his commentators) had been printed previously, but in the late fifteenth century an edition of Aristotle in the original Greek, shorn of its medieval interpretative baggage, was a desideratum for humanists throughout Europe.


Fig 5: Aristotle Organon (Venice, 1495), 2o: an example of text and capital.


The importance of the Aristotle Organon for the fledgling Aldine press was likewise immense. It was a huge financial undertaking (necessitating extra financial support from Pio to whom all five volumes are dedicated). It required an elaborate font and decorative initials and its editing was an enormous scholarly endeavour. In short, it was designed to showcase the core values of the Aldine press, to put it on the intellectual map of early modern printing and scholarship. Ownership of such an edition was clearly a desideratum for a connoisseur collector such as Worth but he did not limit himself to Aldines – he also owned a large number of items printed by sixteenth-century French printing houses, such as that of the Estienne dynasty.


Bookbindings at the Edward Worth Library


Worth was fascinated by the book as a material object. He was a connoisseur collector and was not only intent on tracking down rare printings – he also paid considerable attention to their bindings. In his bequest to Dr Steevens’ Hospital, he included 57 sale and auction catalogues and from these we can plot how he developed his collection between 1723 and 1733. He did not limit himself to what was on offer in Dublin but also bought from auctions in London, Amsterdam, The Hague and Paris. As a result, Worth’s collection is very much that of a European collector and, like contemporary collectors, he also had many books rebound in the early eighteenth century. He was, however, always keen to retain fine bindings and because of this the Worth Library holds examples of Irish, English, French, Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish bindings – to name but the most obvious. Worth was lucky to be buying shortly after the stock market crash in 1720 when so many treasures were coming on the market. We are lucky because, due to a concatenation of circumstances, the Worth Library now offers historians of the book as material object a truly unique opportunity to see original bindings, dating from the late fifteenth century onwards, in an incredible state of preservation.


Fig. 6: Herodoti Halicarnassei historiæ lib. IX & de vita Homeri libellus. Illi ex interpretatione Laur. Vallæ adscripta, hic ex interpret. Co[n]radi Heresbachii: vtraque ab Henr. Stephano recognita. Ex Ctesia excerptæ historiæ. Icones quarunda[m] memorabiliu[m] structuraru[m]. Apologia Henr. Stephani pro Herodoto. Eiusde[m] H. Steph. De hac sua editione disticho[n], Herodoti Latium possederat hactenus vmbram, Nunc Latium corpus possidet Herodoti (Geneva, 1566), 2o: front cover.


This mid-sixteenth century French binding on one of Worth’s many publications by Henri II Estienne (1528–98), gives some indication of the quality of bindings to be found in the Worth Library. The binding is in the style of Jean Grolier’s ‘Last Binder’. Grolier (1489-1565), who had died in the previous year, is regarded as the greatest French bibliophile of the Renaissance. A friend of Aldus Manutius, he was heavily influenced by his time spent as a French Treasurer of Milan. Encouraged by his patronage and that of the French kings François I and Henri II, French binding reached a renaissance of its own in the middle of the sixteenth century. Some of Grolier’s binders have been identified but his last two binders are known only as ‘the Cupid’s Bow Binder’ and ‘Grolier’s Last Binder’. The symmetrical style, incorporating graceful lines and geometrical shapes proved attractive to many and by the early eighteenth century, when Worth was collecting, books owned by Grolier, or connected to his binders, began to be much sought after. It is one of a large number of French bindings in the Worth Library.

Fig. 7: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester’s copy of Magna Carta (London, 1556), 8o, back cover.


We know that the book belonged to Robert Dudley (1532/3–1588), the favourite of Elizabeth I (1533–1603), because its contemporary binding in panelled calf bears his distinctive medallion badge of a bear with a ragged staff, stamped in blind on the covers. The mark of a crescent on the bear’s shoulder, an indication that the owner was a second son, helps date this binding to 1557, the year in which Robert’s elder brother Henry Dudley died, just one year after the text had been published in English by Richard Tolet (London, 1556).

As the badge of the bear and staff was a popular block used by several different binders it is impossible to pinpoint the particular binder responsible for this binding. However, Dudley patronised six groups of binders who have been given the following names: the Cartouche group; the Frame group; the Initials binder; the Clemens Alexandrinus group; the Dudley binder and the so-called Morocco binder. This binding is a example of the Frame group. The blind-tooled initials in the medallion ‘S.F.’ were added by a later owner. To find out more see our blog post on Magna Carta.


Fig. 8: Julius Caesar, Hoc volvmine continentvr haec. Commentariorum de bello Gallico libri VIII. De bello ciuili Pompeiano. Libri IIII. De bello Alexandrino. Liber I. De bello Africano. Liber I. De bello Hispaniensi. Liber I. Pictura totius Galliæ (Venice, 1519), 8o, back cover.


Another sixteenth-century binding which proclaims its ownership is an early sixteenth-century Italian binding on Worth’s copy of Caesar’s Commentaries (Venice, 1519). Unlike many other of his Aldines, which Worth had rebound, this book retains its original binding in gold-tooled brown goat. As can be seen here, stylistically it has much in common with the bindings emanating from Venice and Bologna in the early to mid-sixteenth century. What makes this particular volume unique is the inscription on the back which gives us the information that this edition of Caesar’s Commentaries was the property of Ranuccio Farnese. As this influential Italian family included more than one family member by that name, detective work was necessary to track down the likely owner – to find out more see our blog post!


Fig. 9: Publius Vergilius Maro, Opera: Bucolica et Georgics (Paris, 1500), 2o: front cover.


Many early eighteenth-century collectors preferred to have their purchases rebound in deluxe contemporary bindings and one such was the Amsterdam merchant Goswin Uilenbroek (1658–1740), whose library was auctioned in 1729. It was an auction which proved to be a happy hunting ground for Worth. Thanks to the outstanding work of Jan Sturm van Leeuwen on eighteenth-century Dutch bindings, we know that the volume above was bound for Uilenbroek c. 1710 at Amsterdam. Uilenbroek was, like Worth, a connoisseur collector and he used a number of Amsterdam binderies to bind his works: the Uilenbroek and Art Book Bindery as well as the Bird’s Head and Justitia Binderies. We can tell that this came from his library because of two things. First of all, we have Worth’s copy of the sale catalogue of the Uilenbroek sale in 1729, where the Virgil is marked. Secondly, we can tell by the style of the binding that it had previously been owned by Uilenbroek for, as Storm van Leeuwen points out, Uilenbroek had a very idiosyncratic taste in bindings. He had a particular preference for gold-tooled black morocco (goat skin) – popular up to 1710 in Amsterdam, and for black and purple daubing, rather than gilt edges. Uilenbroek’s decision to have this work rebound was typical of early eighteenth-century collectors who sought to enhance the value of their rare printings by casting off their original bindings and rebinding them in gold-tooled bindings. Many incunables (i.e., books printed prior to 1501) met a similar fate.


Fig. 10:  Synesius of Cyrene, De regno ad Arcadium imperatorem (Paris, 1553). 2o. Cover and Worth Bindery Roll 1 on tail edge and turn-ins.


Worth was no exception to this trend and he also arranged for many books to be rebound. One Dublin bindery is named after him, and its exemplars point to the expertise of Dublin binders in the 1720s and 1730s. In the above example from the ‘Worth Bindery’ we see how the use of rolls and tools not only help identify this binding as a product of the Worth Bindery but also point to the perception of the book being bound. This superb copy of De regno ad Arcadium imperatorem was evidently considered a work of high status: Worth Bindery Roll 1 is used on the turn-ins and the edges of the text-block are gilded. The binding gives us a clue to Worth’s interest in this work: the third panel on the spine proclaims that it was printed by the renowned Parisian printer Adrien Turnèbe in 1553. As we have seen, Worth was a keen collector of sixteenth-century printing and often drew attention to this aspect of his collection by having such labels attached to the spine of his choice volumes.


Worth’s Medical Collections


Worth bought medical books for many reasons: his medical collection contains Aldine editions of Galen alongside the works of seventeenth-century chemical philosophers and early eigthteenth-century exponents of Newtonian approaches to medicine. As might be expected, he had an extensive collection of anatomy and surgical texts, as well as a host of texts on infectious diseases. He appears to have been particularly pre-occupied by plague – as well he might be for in 1720 plague was raging in southern France and physicians were anxiously considering ways of preventing it reaching their shores.


Fig. 11: Adam Lonicer, Naturalis historiae opus novum (Frankfurt, 1551), 2o., fol. 184, Peony.


One of his largest and most astonishing collections were his botanical texts for his collection spanned sixteenth- and seventeenth-century herbals; seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century floras; and early works on plant classification. His earliest herbals included Otto Brunfels’ Herbarum vivae eicones ad naturae imitationem (Strassburg, 1532) and Leonhard Fuch’s De historia stirpium commentarii insignes (Basle, 1542), and to these he added this coloured herbal by another sixteenth-century German botanist, Adam Lonicer (Lonitzer) (1528–86), who was city physician at Frankfurt. Lonicer’s herbal, though by no means the most innovative of its kind, proved to be one of the most enduring of all, and editions of it were still being produced in Germany in 1783. His text owed much to the Ortus sanitatis, a medieval text which had been translated in the fifteenth century by a previous city physician at Frankfurt, Johann de Cuba (1430–1503). Worth’s copy of Lonicer’s herbal is one of only two coloured herbals in the Worth Library. Such coloured herbals were relatively rare since they were very costly to produce.


Worth’s scientific collections


It is clear that Worth, like Brunfels, Fuchs and Lonicer, had a professional interest in the medical uses of plants but he was also fascinated by the study of botany as an end in itself. The same might also be said of his chemical collection for though he naturally possessed many phamacopeias, he was certainly attracted to chymistry as a study in its own right. Worth’s collections demonstrate his abiding interest in all things scientific: from the wild and wonderful mythical creatures lurking in the pages and bindings of his texts to his extensive collections of mathematical and astronomical books. Above all, he was fascinated by the works of Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727).


Fig. 12: Sir Isaac Newton, Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica (London, 1726), frontispiece with Worth’s annotation marking Newton’s death.


It is striking that Edward Worth collected not one but two copies of each of Newton’s major works: a second and third edition of his Principia; the first English and Latin editions of his Opticks, a first edition of his Arithmetica universalis as well as a later 1732 Dutch edition, and, finally, the posthumous publication of his Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms amended, which was published in 1728, a year after Newton’s death. Worth’s commitment to Newtonian science is clearly demonstrated not only in his fascination for these works but also in the various commentaries on them he amassed, commentaries which sought to explain Newton’s findings in the Principia and replicate his experiments in the Opticks.


Fig. 13: Sir Isaac Newton, Opticks: or, A treatise on the reflexions, refractions, inflexions and colours of light. Also two treatises of the species and magnitude of curvilinear figures (London, 1704), 4o., title page.


Worth collected the vast majority of the major texts by the leading Newtonian commentators of his day. His interest went beyond even this: it seems possible that a set of Spanish plays by Calderon may have been purchased as much because they had been owned by Newton’s biographer and nephew-in-law, John Conduitt (1688–1737), as for their subject matter. Equally, Worth, a collector who rarely annotated his books, made an exception in his prized copy of the 1726 edition of the Principia, marking the date of Newton’s death. Worth’s adherence to the Newtonian cause owed much to his interest in the Royal Society. That he was committed to all areas of scientific investigation is apparent in his wonderful collection of books on natural philosophy in the early modern period. These cover all areas of scientific investigation but it clear that the presiding philosophical approach was that of a staunch Newtonian. By the time of his death in 1727 Newton was officially acknowledged as the foremost English scientist of his age, a fact graphically outlined in the sumptuous funeral arrangements that were listed at the time. That Worth concurred with this estimation is clearly visible in the Worth Library today.


Worth’s literary collections


The Edward Worth Library is best known for its wonderfully preserved bindings, his extensive medical collections and his wide-ranging scientific interests but these are not the only sections of the Library where treasures may be found. He was clearly interested in the poetry and plays of his time, be they in English, French, Italian or Spanish, and also collected earlier works. One such he inherited from his father, John Worth (1648–88), Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. John Worth’s copy of The workes of Geffray Chaucer (London, 1532) was the first complete collected edition of the writings of the poet and administrator Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400).


Fig. 14: Geoffrey Chaucer, The workes of Geffray Chaucer (London, 1532), 2o. Divisional/section title page for ‘The Canterbury Tales’.


It was the first attempt to collect the complete works of an English author into a single volume. The edition was edited by William Thynne (d. 1546) and was published by the printer Thomas Godfray. The edition contains the first printings of a number of major works in verse and prose by Chaucer, but also a large number of works that were not written by him, including poems by John Lydgate (c. 1370-1449/50?), Thomas Hoccleve (c. 1367-1426), Richard Roos (c. 1410-1482), and Robert Henryson (d. c. 1490).

The Worth Library’s copy of the edition lacks quire A, which contains the general title page and introductory materials, and begins with a separate divisional/section title page within woodcut borders for the sixth printing of The Canterbury Tales. This title page, shown above, has a manuscript annotation, ‘Ex libris Joh. Worth empt Dubl. 1684 prt. 00-19.00’, which reveals that the book was purchased by John Worth at Dublin in 1684 for the price of 19 shillings.



Fig. 15: Geoffrey Chaucer, The workes of Geffray Chaucer (London, 1532), 2o. Woodcut of the Manciple in ‘The Canterbury Tales’, fol. Cv verso / Sig. V3v.


The Canterbury Tales consists of a collection of twenty-four stories presented within the framework of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims on a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury Cathedral. The Canterbury Tales section is the only section of the edition that is illustrated, which contains twenty woodcut illustrations from fifteen blocks depicting equestrian portraits of single pilgrims. The last two woodcuts in Worth’s copy were altered by a reader at some stage. The woodcut above is taken from the tale recited by the Manciple, who was an official charged with purchasing and storing provisions. A plumage of feathers has been drawn on the head of the horse along with additional horse tack, while a wide-brimmed and tall hat has been drawn on head of the pilgrim. To find out more about this book, see our April Book of the Month.


Fig. 16. Bookshelf in the Edward Worth Library.


Worth also demonstrated some interest in architecture and art, and was the proud owner of Antony van Dyck’s Icones principum virorum doctorum, pictorum chalcographorum statuariorum nec non amatorum picturae artis numero centum ab Antonio Van Dyck pictore ad vivum expressae eiusque sumptibus aeri incisae, printed at Antwerp in 1646 by Gillis Hendricx, which was the subject of another Worth online exhibition. These are only some of the many treasures of the Edward Worth Library. We hope you will come and visit us to find out more! The Worth Library runs a seminar series and a research fellowship scheme as well as different types of events throughout the year – follow us on Twitter @EdwardWorthLib to find out about upcoming events and initiatives.







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