Fine Manuscript and Printed Americana

Fine Manuscript and Printed Americana

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 2199. [MEXICAN INCUNABLE] Vocabulario de Alonso Molina. México, Juan Pablos, 1555.

[MEXICAN INCUNABLE] Vocabulario de Alonso Molina. México, Juan Pablos, 1555

Auction Closed

January 27, 09:56 PM GMT


200,000 - 300,000 USD

Lot Details




4to (185 x 189 mm). a8 A8 B-Z4 &4 2A-2Z4 2&4 ++a-p4. [viii], 47, 57-60, 48-56, 61-260 ff. Gathering O misbound between L3 & L4, ff 81-84 mis-numbered. Text in Spanish & Nahautl. Title printed in red & black with large woodcut depicting St. Francis of Assissi receiving the stigmata, printer's slip at foot of title reading "Tassado por al Audie[n]cia Real en dos pesos y un tomín", verso with full page woodcut Christogram device, full page woodcut of Virgin and child behind large arms of the Franciscan order, full page woodcut of the Virgin presenting St. Ildefonso with a chasuble, woodcut initials for each letter of the alphabet (including A, B, & C). Title with some small marginal stains, two small holes near third line of text, evidence of old stamp removal, open tear to lower margin of a2 with loss to two words in final line of text, some areas of dampstaining (primarily marginal), small wormhole and slightly heavier dampstain running through last few gatherings, last leaf stained and with repairs, a few instances of marginalia in an early hand. Near-contemporary vellum with ties, spine lettered in manuscript. Housed in a custom slip-case. 

First edition of the first dictionary and indeed one of the earliest books to be printed in the Americas, as well as the first vocabulary of the Nahuatl language.

Evidently only the second complete copy to have ever come to public auction; the first, the Phillipps-Robinson copy, sold in these rooms in 1986 for $375,000.

An outstanding example from the first press in America. Juan Pablos' first dated work appeared in 1539, but for the first ten years he was obliged to publish under the imprint of Juan Cromberger, the Seville printer who financed the press. All early Mexican books are very rare —most are represented by imperfect or fragmentary copies, and of several no copy is at present known. 

Molina's Vocabulario is now recognized as being one of the most important works on the Nahuatl language. This first work, printed in 1555, consisted of a Spanish to Nahautl dictionary; Molina would go on to develop the first Nahautl to Spanish dictionary 16 years later, publishing the two parts together to form the first complete bilingual dictionary of the Nahuatl langage (see lot 2200)- an astounding accomplishment, especially when one understands how fundamentally different the two languages syntactically, phonologically, and semantically. Creating a work such as this was not simply a matter of determining a word-to-word listing of translations, but rather, required a person who could understand the differences in the ways the two peoples viewed and conceptualized the world. Molina luckily had learned to speak both Spanish and Nahautl as a child, and so grasping these contrasting perspectives came naturally to him. He also had a great collaborator in this task; Bernardino de Sahagún, a fellow Franciscan Friar who dedicated 50 years of his life to learning the Nahuatl language, as well as studying Aztec history, culture, and beliefs. The importance of the pair's contributions to ethnolinguistics and ethnography cannot be overstated. 


Gallardo III, 3081; Garcia Icazbalceta (1954) 23; JCB I, 188; Medina, Mexico, 24; Palau 174351 (todos los ejemplares...en comercio son defectuosos [trans: all copies in the trade are defective]; Sabin 49866; Salva II, 736; Wagner, Mexican Imprints in the Huntington, pp. 16--17; for an excellent history of this work and others on the Nahuatl language see Molly H. Bassett The Fate of Earthly Things: Aztec Gods and God-Bodies, Chapter 2 "Ethnolinguistic Encounters: Teotl and Teixiptla in Nahautl Scholarship". University of Texas Press, 2015.


Miguel Angel Porrua (Ex-Libris)