The rare first edition of Apianus’ rare work on cosmology

By APIANUS, Petrus, 1524 

Cosmographicus liber.

Natural History, Science & Medicine
  • Author: APIANUS, Petrus
  • Publication place: Landshut
  • Publisher: Johann Weyssenburger
  • Publication date: 1524.
  • Physical description: First edition, quarto (197 by 152mm), title with large woodcut globe, arms of the Cardinal Archbishop of Salzburg on verso, full-page woodcut on p. [viii], the first quire printed in red and black, profusely illustrated with woodcuts depicting globes, scientific instruments, astronomical and geographical maps and diagrams, etc., the illustrations on pages (Cols.) 17, 24, 50, 63 and lv with well-preserved volvelles; without the two unused volvelles occasionally attached to the final printed leaf, being parts of the illustration of Apianus’s Instrumentum syderale’, recased in limp vellum.Collation: [pi]4″; A‑M4; 4: 56 leaves, 4 blank; with many mis-signings. A lv-M4v paginated (as Col.”) 2–104.
  • Inventory reference: 11981


Petrus Apianus (1495–1552) was born in Saxony as Peter Bienewitz. He studied at the University of Leipzig from 1516 to 1519, where he took a Latinised version of his German name: Petrus Apianus. In 1520 he moved to Vienna, where he was part of the second Vienna school of cartography, and produced his first world map there. He then moved again to Landshut, where he produced the Cosmographicus liber’ in 1524, his first major work.

Based on the theories of Ptolemy, it contains paper instruments called volvelles, which Apianus would use so effectively in his work that they are sometimes known as Apian wheels. It covers the division of the earth into climatic zones, the uses of parallels and meridians, the determination of latitude, several methods for determining longitude including that of lunar distance, the use of trigonometry to determine distances, several types of map projections, and many other topics” (Karrow). America is depicted on the globes on pp. 2 and 63 and described on p. 69.

The Cosmographicus liber’ is one of the most popular books on cosmography ever published. It went through no fewer than 45 editions, was published in four languages, and was manufactured in seven cities by at least 18 printers. Its popularity derived principally from its maps and discussion of the New World, but also for its ingenious use of volvelles.

Copies are very rarely found with the full complement of volvelles: the British Library copy, for instance, lacks the volvelle on p. 50. The book is uncommon. We have been able to trace five examples of the first edition selling at auction since World War II. 



From the library of Rajmund Count Skórzewski (1791–1859), collector and bibliophile from the noble family of Drogosław. Skórzewski was owner of the Nekiel and Czerniejewo estates, and creator of the Skórzewskie Ordynacji in Czerniejewo — Radomice in 1846. From 1869, every ordinate had a seat in the Prussian House of Lords.
He owned the property of Czerniejewo and many other estates, with a wonderful collection of paintings of famous Polish and foreign painters, including an original Łukasz Cranach. He liked works of art and collected tens of thousands of volumes, rare incunabula, and hundreds of old prints, manuscripts, and autographs, etc. Unfortunately, this collection, along with the whole book collection, shared the fate of other collections and was dispersed”.

M. Swinarski, Collectors and bibliophiles. Memories of the antiquarian and bibliophile, Poznań 1955/56, Biblioteka Raczyńskich Poznań, rps 2022. 


  1. Sabin 1738
    • Sabin, J. (1962). A Dictionary of books relating to America. Amsterdam: Israel.

Image gallery