Collecting Estiennes

Collecting Estiennes

The Estienne press was the most famous French printing dynasty in sixteenth-century Europe. It was multi-generational, beginning with Henri I (1460-1520) in the first decade of the sixteenth century and continuing, through branches of the family, into the early seventeenth century. By the early eighteenth century Estienne publications were regarded as collectors’ items and Edward Worth (1676-1733), a connoissuer book collector, carefully amassed them. Clearly he regarded the output of some members of the family as being more important than others for not all of the family’s members are represented equally in his collection. Some, such as Antoine (1592-1675) and François II (fl. 1562-82), are not included at all. The vast majority of his collection was produced by the two leading lights of the family: Henri I’s son, Robert I (1503-59) who was responsible for 15% of Worth’s Estiennes, and the latter’s even more famous son, Henri II (1528-98), who accounted for no less than 50% of all Estiennes in the Worth Library.

Distribution of publications in the Worth Library by members of the Estienne family.

David Allan, in his article ‘Book-Collecting and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain’ reminds us that ‘like the lawyers and doctors, clergymen again frequently amassed book collections that were biased to some extent towards the types of literature they required for professional purposes’.[1] Worth’s overall collection demonstrates a similar bias towards medicine and he certainly purchased some medical and scientific works printed by the Estienne family.

De Latinis et Græcis nominibus arborum, fructicum, herbarum, piscium, & auium liber : ex Aristotele, Theophrasto, Dioscoride, Galeno, Aëtio, Paulo Aegineta, Actuario, Nicandro, Athenaeo, Oppiano, Aeliano, Plinio, Hermolao Barbaro, & Iohanne Ruellio : cum Gallica eoru[m] nominum appellatione (Paris, 1554), p. 41. A description of jasmin.

Worth’s earliest scientific Estienne publication was a book on viticulture written by Robert I’s younger brother Charles and printed by his elder brother François I. To this he added another publication by Charles, the above work on the Latin, Greek and French names of trees, fruits, herbs, fish and birds. In this work we see Charles acting as an editor-printer in much the same way as his brother Robert I and his nephew Henri II would meld the two roles. Both works by Charles fitted in well with Worth’s extensive collection of works on botany but these were the only books on horticulture and botany printed by the Estiennes that Worth purchased.

To these he added two works on medicine, both produced by Henri II. His copy of the Dictionarivm medicum, vel, expositiones vocum medicinaliu[m], ad verbum exerptæ ex Hippocrate, Aretaeo, Galeno, Oribasio, Rvfo Ephesio, Aetio, Alex. Tralliano, Pavlo Aegineta, Actvario, Corn. Celso. Cum Latina interpretatione. Lexica duo in Hippocratem huic Dictionario præfixa sunt, vnum, Erotiani, nunqua[m] antea editu[m], alteru[m], Galeni, multo emendatius quàm antea excusum was printed at Geneva in 1564 and the Medicae artis principes post Hippocratem & Galenum at the same place three years later.

Medicae artis principes post Hippocratem & Galenum … (Geneva, 1567), p. 170.

An analysis of the Estienne publications in the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) in Maryland, the Library of Manchester University and a study of books in Edinburgh’s libraries demonstrates that Worth’s two medical works were collected by these institutional libraries also. Clearly they were regarded as ‘essential’ collectors’ items. However, a study of the medical Estienne publications in these libraries highlights the intriguing fact that all of these institutions contained far more medical Estienne publications than those found in the Worth Library. This may easily be accounted for by the fact that the three institutional libraries are huge compared to Worths’s personal collection and, more pertinently, were collected over centuries. But their collections point to the fact that the Estiennes produced more medical publications than is apparent from Worth’s collection. It seems unlikely that he willingly ignored medical Estiennes on the market. The most likely explanation was that he simply did not have the same opportunity to amass them as did the NLM, Manchester or the Edinburgh libraries.

We should also remember that, while the Dictionarium medicum and Medicae artis principes would have been of medical interest to Worth he would also have been attracted to them as scholarly classical editions. We know, for example, that he purchased Aldine medical texts for similar reasons. His copy of the Medicae artis principes post Hippocratem & Galenum would have fitted in neatly with his 1525 Greek edition of the works of Galen, and his 1526 Greek edition of the works of Hippocrates, both by the Aldine press, for the Medicae artis principes was a corrected version of medical texts from antiquity. The Dictionarium medicum likewise was part of this group for it was a dictionary of Greek and Latin medical terms. In short, Worth might have had more than one motivation for collecting medical Estienne publications.

Subject divisions in Worth’s Estienne collection.

As this graph demonstrates, medical and scientific Estienne publications were by no means the most important section of Worth’s Estienne collection. That position belonged to history and literature (with more than 20 and 30 volumes respectively). This predominance reflects the core subject areas of the Estienne presses for the printers had made their name as translators of classical historical and literary texts. Above all the Estiennes were celebrated for the clarity of their printing and the excellence of their classical editions.

The inclusion of such historical and classical texts was a given in an early eighteenth-century gentleman’s library but not all were as committed to tracking down rare printings as Worth. As David Allan reminds us, collectors such as Edward Worth lived in a century which witnessed the beginning of a true ‘mania’ of book collecting. Though Worth began his collection rather earlier than the stereotypical bibliomania depicted by Allan, we can see the beginnings of the impulse.[2]

Bibliotheca Marckiana, sive catalogus librorum quos … comparavit … Henricus Hadrianus Vander Marck … quorum publica distractio fiet per Petrum de Hondt. Die 14 Julii & seqq. 1727 (The Hague, 1727), listing of Estiennes, pp 28-9.

This image, from Worth’s copy of the 1727 auction of the Dutch book collector Hendrik Hadrian van der Marck, demonstrates that by the early eighteenth-century Estienne publications were firmly entrenched in the collectors’ canon of rarities. The decision of the printer, Pieter De Hondt (1696-1764), to begin his catalogue with lists of Aldines, Estiennes and Elsevirs reflects his recognition of their value as collectors’ items.


Dicaearchi Geographica quædam, sive de Vita Græciæ. Eiusdem Descriptio Græciæ, versibus iambicis, ad Theophrastu[m]. Cum Lat. interpretatione atq[ue] annot. Henr. Steph. et eius dialogo qui inscriptus est Dicaearchi Sympractor (Geneva, 1589), front cover.

Many of Worth’s Estienne’s acquisitions from the Vander Marck sale were bound in early eighteenth-century Dutch gold-tooled bindings – an indication that Vander Marck, like many other contemporary collectors, greatly prized his Estiennes and Worth retained the deluxe bindings.[3] It seems likely that Worth bought his copy of Robert I’s edition of Iun. Iuvenalis Satyræ XVI. A. Persii Satyræ VI (Paris, 1544-5) from the Vander Marck sale and, as we can see in image 5, he definitely purchsed his 1536 edition of Terence’s comedies from that auction. However, he was clearly more indebted to another Dutch collector, Goswin Uilenbroek (1658-1740), for a number of the latter’s Estiennes were purchased from the famous Uilenbroek sale of 1729. The above example, in classic gold-tooled red goat, is but one of a number of books which bear the distinctive pencil marks of the Uilenbroek auction. Yet others were purchased in 1724 from another huge auction – of the library of the comtes de Brienne.[4]

Callimachi Cyrenæi Hymni (cum suis scholiis Græcis) & Epigrammata. Eiusdem Poematium de coma Berenices, à Catullo versum … (Geneva, 1577), front cover gold-tooled with the name of the owner, Clovis Hesteau (d. 1623/4).

Provenance was of interest to collectors such as Worth and some of Worth’s Estiennes retain signatures and other indications of earlier owners. As we can see, this book belonged to Clovis Hesteau, Sieur de Nuysement, the renowned French poet whose name is gold-tooled on the covers. A contemporary French owner was Claude Saumaise (1588-1653), the famous classical scholar, whose signature may be found on Worth’s copy of the 1592 edition of [Appianou Alexandreos Romaika]: Appiani Alexandrini Rom. Historiarvm (Geneva, 1592), produced by Henri II Estienne. Closer in time was the owner of Worth’s copy of Jean Salmon Macrin’s Odarum libri tres (Paris, 1546), which bears the signature of Etienne Baluze (1630-1718), a French scholar and historiographer who had at one time been the librarian of Jean Baptist Colbert (1619-83). Colbert’s colleague, the royal librarian Jean Paul Bignon (1662-1743), was the previous owner of Worth’s copy of {Polemōnos, Himeriou, kai allōn tinōn meletai]: Polemonis, Himerii, & aliorum quorundam declamationes. Nunc primùm editae. Hic ille esse fertur Polemon inter sophistas olim celeberrimus, et dicto illo valde nobilitatus, Romam esse orbis epitomen (Geneva, 1567).

Naturally not every earlier owner was French. Closer to home, Worth’s copy of Henri II’s 1592 edition of Herodotus’ Histories had previously been owned by his contemporary, William Perceval (1671-1734), whose name may be found on the verso of the title page. Perceval was archdeacon of Cashel from 1703 to 1725 and was dean of Emly from 1714 to 1734. Perceval was also one of the previous owners of Worth’s copy of Lucan’s De bello civili libri decem (Paris, 1545), his [Tes Kaines Diathekes hapanta}: Nouum Testamentum. Ex bibliotheca Regia (Paris, 1546) and his edition of Concordantiæ Græcolatinæ Testamenti Novi, nunc primùm plenæ editæ … (Geneva, 1600), which was printed by Paul Estienne. Indeed, Perceval may have given Worth the 1545 Lucan and the 1546 New Testament as Perceval’s inscription reads ‘Ex dono W. Percival’ and Ex dono W. Percivale Archid. Cassel’ respectively.

[Xenophontos ta sozomena biblia] Xenophontis (viri armoru[m] & literaru[m] laude celeberrimi) Qvæ extant opera. Annotationes Henrici Stephani, multum locupletatæ: quæ varia ad lectionem Xenophontis longe utilissima habent. Editio secunda, ad qvam esse factam maximam diligentiæ accessionem, statim cognosces (Geneva, 1581), front cover bearing the arms of the Collège des Grassins.

Another name which appears on a number of Worth’s Estiennes, is the name ‘Cuthbert’ and a date, either 1711 or 1712. Here, it is more likely that we are dealing with a bookseller’s name rather than a generous donor such as William Percivale. Cuthbert’s name may likewise be found on Worth’s copy of Henri II’s 1581 edition of Xenophon’s works which also bears a signature mark of the Utrecht pastor Johann Dibbets (Dibbezius), whose inscription on the front pastedown provides yet more provenance history : ‘Sum Johan : Dibbezii erutus in auctione bibliothecae Bosmanniano An. 1608 13 Maii’. Dibbets had been one of the Utrecht ministers at the Synod of Dort. Worth had two copies of the 1582 Xenophon. As the image above makes clear, the second was the property of the Collège des Grassins, a Parisian college founded in 1569, whose coat of arms of three lilies is clearly visible. Such marks of provenance (and inscriptions on other Estiennes in the Worth Library) point to the myriad sources of Worth’s collection of Estiennes.


Allan, David, ‘Book-Collecting and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain’, The Yearbook of English Studies, 45 (2015), 74-92.

Anon., Catalogue of Books, Being the Library of the Late Most Rev. William Newcombe (Dublin, 1800).

Bird, D. T., A Catalogue of Sixteenth-Century books in Edinburgh Libraries, (Edinburgh, 1982).

Boran, Elizabethanne, ‘Dr Edward Worth: a connoisseur book collector in early eighteenth-century Dublin’, in Boran, Elizabethanne (ed.), Book Collecting in Ireland and Britain 1650-1850 (Dublin, 2018), pp 80-103.

Boran, Elizabethanne, Aldines at the Edward Worth Library (Dublin, 2015).

Durling, Richard J., A Catalogue of Sixteenth Century Printed books in the National Library of Medicine (Bethesda, Maryland, 1967).

Parkinson, Ethel M., A Catalogue of Medical Books in Manchester University Library 1480-1700 compiled by Ethel M. Parkinson, assisted by Audrey E. Lumb, (Manchester, 1972).



[1]Allan, David, ‘Book-Collecting and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain’, The Yearbook of English Studies, 45 (St Andrew, Scotland, 2015), 80.

[2] Boran, Elizabethanne, ‘Dr Edward Worth: a connoisseur book collector in early eighteenth-century Dublin’, in Boran, Elizabethanne (ed.), Book Collecting in Ireland and Britain 1650-1850 (Dublin, 2018), pp 80-103.

[3] Boran, Elizabethanne, Aldines at the Edward Worth Library (Dublin, 2015), p. xviii.

[4] Illustrissimi & Excellentissimi Ludovici Henrici Comitis Castri-Briennij … Bibliothecae Ad ejusdedm Filiuim Constantiae in Normanniâ Episcopum pertinentis, Catalogus. A catalogue of the library of his Excellency Louis Henry de Lomenie, Count De  Brienne (London, 1724).