Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things]. Senshun SO, compilers, eds.
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].
Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].

Large Paper Set

Seikei zusetsu [An Illustrated Book of Agricultural Things].

33 double-page & 181 full-page woodcuts, of which 122 are splendidly block-printed in color. 30 vols. Large 8vo, orig. yellow wrappers (wrappers wormed & repaired), Vols. 1-20 embossed with a wood-grain pattern, Vols. 21-30 use a different pattern, orig. block-printed title labels on upper covers, new stitching. From the colophon in Vol. 30 (in trans.): “Woodblocks owned by the Kagoshima fiefdom and distributed by Aiya Kyubei & Iyoya Zenbei in Osaka,” Preface in Vol. I dated “1804.”

First edition of this great agricultural and botanical work which is wonderfully illustrated; it is an encyclopedic survey of all the agricultural products and practices of Japan. It is accompanied by a splendid series of woodcut illustrations, many of which are finely color-printed. Our set of the first 20 volumes is part of the large-paper edition (272 x 188 mm.); whereas the regular-paper copies are 266 x 184 mm. in size. There were no large-paper copies of Vols. 21-30.

This book is today a valuable repository of traditional Japanese knowledge of crops, including vegetables, herbs, and trees; agricultural practices; and food-processing methods. The authors focus on the properties and characteristics of crops, their utility for humans, and the best systems to cultivate them. Less than half of the crop species described in this work are still grown in substantial quantities as commercial products in Japan. Much of our description is based on the remarkable article (they approach this book in such a fascinating way) by Shantonu Abe Chatterjee & Tinde van Andel, “Lost Grains and Forgotten Vegetables from Japan: the Seikei Zusetsu Agricultural Catalog (1793–1804)” in Economic Botany, Vol. 73 (2019), pp. 375-89, and Federico Marcon’s The Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge in Early Modern Japan (University of Chicago), pp. 285-90.

This encyclopedia of agriculture was commissioned in 1793 by Shigehide Shimazu (1745-1833), the highly cultured ruler of the Satsuma domain in southern Japan. The purpose of the work was to provide a complete source of information for improving agricultural production in the region by expansion, diversification, and maximization using improved agricultural methods. For the preparation of the book, Shimazu recruited the doctor and botanist Senshun So (1758-1834), the nativist scholar Kunihashira Shirao (1762-1821), the Confucian scholar Tomoaki Mukai, and the Rangaku scholar Monjuro Hori to gather and edit the field notes Shimazu had made over the years. The works of Dodoens and Kaempfer were also consulted. The illustration blocks were carved by Doryu Yoshikiyo Taniyama (d. 1811).

The splendid illustrations show a large number of crop varieties, planting and harvesting methods, irrigation techniques, flood controls, farm tools, pest controls, agricultural ceremonies, and festivals.

One hundred volumes were planned, but only 30 were printed, as the woodblocks for the remaining unpublished volumes were destroyed in fires in 1806 and 1829. The first 14 volumes are devoted to agricultural matters in general, with descriptions of land use practices, agricultural tools, food preparations, financial transactions, market places, and ceremonies. Vols. 15-20 deal with grains of all types. The remaining volumes are concerned with vegetables of every sort.

There are three issues of this work. The most basic sets did not have color-printing; the plates remained in black and white (see the University of Michigan copy). Our set is the “superior” issue, which has the plates in Vols. 1-20 splendidly block-printed with color while Vols. 21-30 contain uncolored plates. There were a very few “luxury” sets (saishiki tokusei bon; specially made colored book [or] edition) of Vols. 21-30, which have been hand-colored for presentation to aristocrats and fiefdom lords. Von Siebold’s copy at the University of Leiden is such as example; it was probably presented to him by Hoshu Katsuragawa (1736-1809), a prominent rangaku scholar who was part of the team that produced the Kaitai shinsho.

The coloring of the plates in the first 20 volumes is fine and delicate, demonstrating all of the most sophisticated methods used in Japan: graduated coloration, metallic colors including gold and silver, multiple layering of colors through numerous runs through the press, etc. It is important to note that there were regular copies with all the illustrations printed entirely in black and white.

Remarkably, many of the summaries and plant names have been translated into Dutch using katakana.

A small-paper copy of this work, but colored like ours, was present in the Donald and Mary Hyde collection and was sold in 1988 for $44,000.

In fine and fresh condition, with the coloring of the plates bright and fresh. Preserved in three chitsu. Our set has some worming, very expertly repaired in each volume, touching some text and images, but we do not find it disturbing at all.

Price: $95,000.00

Item ID: 7034