Johann Baptist von Spix
Simiarum et Vespertilionum Brasiliensium Species Novae (1823)


Johann Baptist von Spix and the Bavarian Expedition to Brazil, 1817-1820

Johann Baptist von Spix, frontispiece portrait from Spix & Agassiz's Selecta Genera et Species Piscium (Munich, 1829[-1831]), lithographed by Franz Seraph Hanfstangl after Joseph Anton Rhomberg.Johann Baptist von Spix (1781-1826), the son of a surgeon in Bavaria, Germany, received a doctorate in theology at the University of Bamburg before changing his career to medicine (M.D. degree, 1806, from the University of Würzberg). While practicing medicine in these cities for several years, he pursued his interest in anatomy and physiology and traveled in France and Italy where he met with the most eminent scientists of the period including Cuvier and Geoffroy St. Hilaire. He found his life's work in the field of natural history, specifically zoology, when in 1811 he was appointed the first Curator of Zoology at the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften (the Bavarian Academy of Science) in Munich.

In 1815 Spix, botanist Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius (1794-1868), and several other naturalists were selected to take part in an official Austrian expedition to Brazil. The opportunity was occasioned by the marriage of the Austrian emperor's daughter to the crown prince of Portugal then living in Brazil thanks to the Napoleonic invasion of his country. From 1817 to 1820, traveling separately or together at different stages, Spix's and Martius's explorations in the interior of the country turned out to be one of the most important scientific expeditions of the 19th century. Despite illnesses and harrowing obstacles Spix went up the Amazon River and through its jungles as far as the frontier with Peru. They were the first Europeans to explore these areas since La Condamine in the 1730s/40s , and "their collections - including 85 species of mammals, 350 species of birds, nearly 2,700 species of insects, and fifty-seven living animals - provided material for a vast number of works," as the Dictionary of Scientific Biography notes.

Collecting fish, Tab.A in Martius's preface

Upon their return Spix worked tirelessly, analyzing his zoological collections and publishing descriptions of many species new to European science in his works on the mammals, amphibians & reptiles, and birds of Brazil. Tragically he died only 6 years later from the ills contracted during the trip ("nervous typhus" according to Martius's memorial in Selecta Genera et Species Piscium), and his remaining scientific studies (on fishes, mollusks, and insects) were completed by others.

In addition to the 4-volume narrative of the expedition, Reise in Brasilien in den Jahren 1817 bis 1820 (Munich,1823-1831), the publications arising directly from the Spix-Martius collections include:


The Smithsonian Institution Libraries holds all of these in the original editions, except the last on cryptogams.

All of these works were originally published in Munich, although the printer varies. Many were also issued in the same years as the Munich imprints by F. Fleischer in Leipzig or by T.O. Weigel of the same city. In his analysis of the herpetological publications (Serpentum..., ...Testudinum et Ranarum, and ...Lacertarum), Kraig Adler has determined that these latter are merely variant issues, wherein Fleischer's or Weigel's title page has been substituted over the original printed sheets.

In addition, Martius reprinted the works between 1838 and 1840, with the imprint "Monachii [Munich]: Impensis Editoris." Adler's bibliographical investigation indicates that the Martius imprints are essentially the original publication with a new title page, although these he identifies as "reprints." In all of the copies that he examined, Adler notes, "it is clear that both text and illustrations were printed from the same metal plates originally used by Hübschmann...." The word "plates" applied to the text can only mean that the original type-setting was stereotyped for later re-printing. Stereotyping was first invented in the early 1700s, but not until the 1820s, when Spix's works were being published, did it become increasingly common. (The process at that time utilized plaster molds from which plates could be cast for the press; the flexible papier-maché method was not developed until about 1830.)

Thus, if the pattern of the herpetological titles holds true for the others, bibliographically the contemporaneous Fleischer- and Weigel-imprint copies, using sheets from the original print run, are "issues" of the first printing of the first edition, while the later Martius-imprint copies, using sheets newly run-off from stereotype plates, are a second printing or "reprint" of it, not a second edition.

The book

Johann Baptist von Spix. Simiarum et Vespertilionum Brasiliensium Species Novae [New species of Brazilian monkeys and bats]. Munich: F.S. Hübschmann, 1823. fQL737.P925S64 1823 Mamm.

Pagination: 4 p.l., viii, 72 pp.; 38 plates (lithographs, hand-colored). 58 cm.
Collation: 1° : [pi-pi4]1-40; 38 lvs.. pls..

    Front cover; verso: Front paste-down
    Front free endpaper; verso blank
[pi] --- Title page; verso blank
[2pi] --- "Fautores" [=Patrons]; verso blank
[3pi] --- "Index/Table" (2 pp.)
[4pi] --- Half-title: "Simiae" [=Monkeys]; verso blank
1-4 p. [i] - viii "Praefatio" [=Preface]
5-29 p. 1 - 49, [50] Text; pp. [2], [50] blank
30 p. [51-52] Half-title: "Vespertiliones" [=Bats]; verso blank
31-40 p. [53] - 72 Text; p. [56] blank
--- I - XXXVIII Plates; all versos blank
    Back free endpaper; verso blank
    Back paste-down; verso: Back cover

This very large volume, measuring 43 x 58 cm. (17 x 22½ in.), has been printed in a broadsheet format: each sheet of paper is printed with a single page of text on each side, and then bound along one edge. The paper is wove (machine-made), with no chainlines or watermarks to indicate sheet orientation or format, but it can be seen that the volume is sewn in gatherings of six leaves, with the first three leaves folded along the gutter edge to create tabs to which the next three sheets are glued. The first gathering, beginning with the title page, is reversed (the first three leaves glued to tabs created by folding the last three). The plates are bound in the same way, with the final gathering consisting of only four leaves (two folded, two glued to the tabs). The volume is sewn on six bands, of which some are now quite deteriorated. The textblock is cracked down to the bands in several places between gatherings.

As the collation statement indicates, the sheets are signed using arabic numerals. The Latin alphabet had been the standard signing code in printed books since the 1400s, while numerals had been traditionally used for press-figures added to each sheet near the signature mark. (Press figures were a piece-work practice for calculating the quantity of work produced by each of several presses used on a printing job, or conversely for determining which of several presses had printed any particular sheet). However, numerals for signatures became gradually more common from the 1820s on, until they became the norm in the 20th century. Thus Spix's book is an early example of this shift.

The cover, severely rubbed and worn, is the barest half-leather - the corners and spine cover extend no more than 1 inch onto the boards, which are an acid-stained blue paper over pasteboard. Virtually nothing is left of the finished surface of the spine cover; in keeping with the economy and simplicity of the rest of the cover, it probably had no more than a title label (possibly of paper) in the second panel from the top, but this cannot now be determined with certainty. The sides of the spine cover extending over the joints of the front and back boards have a thin, vertical, blind fillet along the forward edge. All edges of the text-block are speckled blue.

The front board has a large paste-on paper label, shaped something like a cowhide or shield, which is blank except for the pencilled notation "§Mam." in the upper left corner. This notation, signifying the Mammals Division of the U.S. National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History), is repeated in the upper left corner of the title page and in the upper left corner of the second printed leaf (p.ii, "Fautores"). In the upper left corner of the verso of the front free end-paper, it appears in expanded form as part of the pencilled phrase "Purch. of / Wesley / Mus. § Mammals" (i.e., purchased from Wesley [by? for?] the Museum's Division of Mammals).

Other notations relating to the Institution's ownership of the volume, all in pencil except for the property stamp, include:

Corroborating the pencilled note mentioned above, the front paste-down displays a small bookseller's label in the lower left corner: "WILLIAM WESLEY & SON, / Booksellers & Publishers, / 28 Essex Street, Strand, / LONDON." This label can be dated to a period between 1885 and 1921. William Wesley's bookselling firm (later the well known natural-history bookseller Wheldon & Wesley) - which acted as the Smithsonian's purchasing agent from 1862 to 1957 - is known to have been in Essex St. from 1871 onward, and his son E.F. Wesley became a partner in 1885; the firm merged with that of John Wheldon in 1921 and moved to new premises.

The lithographed plates are not signed, but Nissen gives "M. Schmid" as their creator. Bénézit provides no matches for the appropriate time period or place under Schmid or Schmitt but does give a listing for a Michael Schmidt, lithographer, who died in 1825 in Munich.

Copies of this work are held by 14 libraries in the United States, including the Smithsonian, according to the National Union Catalogue: Pre-1965 Imprints and the international databases OCLC and RLIN.



Adler, Kraig, editor. Contributions to the History of Herpetology. [Lawrence, Kansas:] Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, 1989. p.23.

Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, [1970-1980]. Vol.12: 578-579.

Fittkau, Ernst Josef. "Johann Baptist Ritter von Spix: Sein Leben und sein wissenschaftliches Werk" in Spixiana: Zeitschrift für Zoologie, Supplement 9: Festschrift zu Ehren von Dr. Johann Baptist Ritter von Spix. Munich: Zoologische Staatssammlung München, 1983. pp. 11-18.

Martius, C.F.P. "Memoriae Joa. Bapt. de Spix" in Selecta Genera et Species Piscium.... Munich: C. Wolf, 1829[-1831]. pp.i-ii.

----- . "To the memory of Johann Baptist von Spix" (translated by V.L. Wirasinha) in Fishes of Brazil: An Aid to the Study of J.B. Spix and L. Agassiz "Selecta Genera et Species Piscium Brasiliensium [sic]", edited by Rohan Pethiyagoda and Maurice Kottelat. Colombo: WHT Publications (Private) Limited, 1998. pp.79-80.

Vanzolini, P.E. "The scientific and political contexts of the Bavarian expedition to Brasil [sic]" in Johann Baptist von Spix & Johann Georg Wagler. Herpetology of Brazil. [Lawrence, Kansas:] Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, 1981. (Facsimile Reprints in Herpetology Series.) pp.ix-xxix.

The book

Adler, Kraig. "Editor's note" in Johann Baptist von Spix & Johann Georg Wagler. Herpetology of Brazil. [Lawrence, Kansas:] Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, 1981. (Facsimile Reprints in Herpetology Series.) pp.v-vii.

Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs.... Nouvelle édition. [Paris]: Librairie Gründ, 1959-1962. Vol.4: 579; 6: 458; 7: 207, 605-616.

Bowers, Fredson. Principles of Bibliographical Description. Winchester: St. Paul's Bibliographies; New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 1994. pp.193-254, 431-434.

British Museum (Natural History). Catalogue of the Books, Manuscripts, Maps and Drawings in the .... London: By order of the Trustees, 1903-1915 . Vol.5:1992-1993.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972. pp.196, 201-205, 328-335.

Glaister, Geoffrey A. Glossary of the Book. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1960. pp.387-391.

Moraes, Rubens Borba de. Bibliographia Brasiliana. Amsterdam; Rio de Janeiro: Colibris Editora Ltda, 1958. Vol.2: 25-30, 278-280.

Nissen, Claus. Die Zoologische Buchillustration: Ihre Bibliographie und Geschichte. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1969. Vol.1: 391-392 (#3953).

Swann, H. K. "A brief history of Wheldon & Wesley Ltd.," in Wheldon & Wesley's 150th Anniversary Catalogue, 5th series, no.191, Oct.1990. pp.i-vi (+ 2 pls.). Reprinted: Antiquarian Book Monthly Review, 18(2), 1991: 70-76.

Wood, Casey, compiler and editor. An Introduction to the Literature of Vertebrate Zoology. London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1931. pp.34, 579-580.

And the international library databases OCLC and RLIN, and The National Union Catalogue: Pre-1965 Imprints.

Leslie K. Overstreet
Curator of Natural History Rare Books
Special Collections Department
Smithsonian Institution Libraries
April 2000