Small 4to (183 x 128 mm). Collation: A-G4.  leaves. Gothic type. Title printed in red and black, large title woodcut of the wheel of fortune, thirty-two woodcut text illustrations consisting of 12 cuts of the astrological signs, 7 cuts of the planets, one zodiac man cut, and 12 small allegorical cuts of the months; large woodcut Fraktur initial N and tailpiece ornament. Dampstaining and softening, title soiled, tears to lower gutters in first few leaves, fol. E1 with closed tear entering text, a few other marginal tears, fol. G2 with repairs to upper blank fore-corner. Contemporary German laced-case dark red dyed parchment binding with envelope flap (somewhat stiffened, a couple of abraded areas, upper endleaf torn away, stub remaining after first gathering). Provenance: inscription in Swedish dated 1597 on inner back cover, below it an old trace of a removed bookplate or inscription; Christian Hammer (1818-1905), “Bibliothek Hammer” bookplate pasted inside fore-edge flap (obscuring most of an early inscription), Catalogue de la Bibliothèque Hammer à Stockholm: Division étrangère (Stockholm, 1886-88, 9 vols.), vol. 7, no. 38811 (binding described as “couvercle de parch.”).***
Sixteenth-century popular printing: an illustrated astrological handbook in its original red parchment flap binding.
Peter Creutzer, the author of a treatise on a comet and a few other astrological pamphlets, is identified here and on the titles of all his works as a student of Johann Lichtenberger, onetime Court astrologer of Emperor Friedrich II and author of several best-selling prophecies and astrological works. Like the writings of his mentor, Creutzer’s Planet-Book proved immensely popular, and remained a staple of German chapbook literature well into the eighteenth century.
In the preface the author reminds his readers that “Die Sterne neigen allein, aber nötigen nicht,” i.e., rather than firm prophecies, astrologers’ predictions simply point in the direction of what is likely, based on the innate, planet-governed tendencies of each individual. Similarly familiar to modern readers of astrology manuals, though with somewhat more emphasis on favorite foods, lucky and unlucky colors, and health issues, the first part of the text describes the characteristics and tendencies of those born under the twelve astrological “sun signs,” with separate paragraphs for men and women. Following a list of lucky and unlucky years, and a chart for calculating the ruling planet for any day of the year, the second section describes the spheres of influence and characteristics of the sun, moon, and five planets.
The close links between popular medicine and astrology in pre-modern Europe are evident from the final section, containing the calendar, as well as a brief introduction to the four complexions or humors, a paragraph on the interaction of planets and weather, and a list of the planetary influences on the various body parts, described as “useful for blood-letting” and illustrated by the astrological man woodcut. The text of the calendar lists recommended foods, drinks, and herbal remedies for each month (using the old German names), counsels for bathing (frequency of baths and types of immersion), and blood-letting points on the body. The unsigned calendar woodcuts, showing appropriate seasonal activities, each incorporating the relevant astrological sign in a tiny cloud cartouche at top, were attributed by Rosenthal to Hans Sebald Beham, possibly a confusion with Hans Brosamer, who illustrated several books for Hermann Gülfferich (cf. Benzing Buchdrucker, 122 and Thieme-Becker 5:67).
The first known editions under the title Planeten-Buch are from 1545: two editions printed in Frankfurt by Gülfferich, a printer and bookbinder; and a Strassburg edition printed the same year. All but two of the several editions of the next decade were printed by Gülfferich, who specialized in popular medicine and science, and his successors. The latter included his stepson Weigand Han, son of the bookseller Georg Han, whose widow had married Gülfferich in 1540. Han was active from 1556 to 1561, when he and his mother sold their house and press to the printer Georg Rab. The present undated Han edition is almost identical to a dated edition by Han from 1556 (VD16 ZV 19013), and probably includes some of the same sheets. The title cut, a wheel of fortune with seven astrological signs of the planets and their allegorical human figures, is printed from a block which appears to have been used throughout the Gülfferich-Han editions, while newer blocks were used for the other illustrations.
These early Frankfurt editions (from 1545, 1548, 1549, 1553, 1555, and 1556) reprinted the same text word for word, the first three using the same woodblock illustrations. The earlier editions are in 24 leaves only: the final 4-leaf quire containing the calendar section first appeared in the 1553 edition. The title cut, a wheel of fortune with seven astrological signs of the planets and their allegorical human figures, is printed from a block which appears to have been used throughout the Gülfferich-Han editions. Newer blocks were used for the other illustrations, imitating but not identical to those in the 1545, 1548 and 1549 editions.
The binding is typical of German laced-case bindings of the period, “sewn on two split-strap alum-tawed transverse sewing supports, the slips laced through slots in the case-type cover which has an envelope flap extending from the right cover. The covers of these bindings often used a rather thick calf parchment without turn-ins, and they almost never have endbands.... [They] often made use of painted parchment and the [red] colour [of this binding] is the most commonly encountered in my experience, followed by green.” (Dr. Nicholas Pickwoad, private communication, with thanks).
All editions are rare. VD-16 lists one copy of the present undated edition, at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, and the Harry Ransom Center holds what may be a variant setting of the same edition. OCLC lists two US institutional copies with the Gülfferich 1545 imprint, at New Mexico State University and the University of Wisconsin.
VD-16 C-5822. Cf. Rosenthal, Bibliotheca magica 1073 (Frankfurt: Gülfferich, 1555, note “Selten! Die Monatsbilder sind von Hans Seb. Beham...”); Houzeau & Lancaster 4839 (Frankfurt 1548); Zinner 2135 (Frankfurt: Han, 1546). Item #2684