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RETZIUS, (1842–1919) & KEY, Axel (1832–1901)

Studien in der Anatomie des Nervensystems und des Bindegewebes. Erste Hälfte und Zweite Hälfte: Erste und Zweite Abtheilung.
Stockholm, Norstedt & söner, 1875-1876, 1903.

One of the most beautiful and outstanding neuroanatomies ever published, which in 1877 rendered Retzius the chair of histology at the Karolinska Institutet. – “His studies of nerve cells and their processes in a wide variety of invertebrates and vertebrates helped to establish the foundation upon which the neuron doctrine was based.” (Haymaker, Founders of Neurology). Early in the autumn of 1875 Key and Retzius sent out a folder with one sheet of text and two plates to announce their publication of the Anatomy of the Nervous System. Volume One was concerned with the central nervous system and Volume Two with the peripheral nervous system and the binding tissues. To produce the 39 full-page plates, they had engaged two of the best lithographers in Sweden, Schlachter and Seedorf at Centraltryckeriet in Stockholm and J.G. Bach’s lithographic officin in Leipzig. The German text, two third of which had been written by Retzius was printed at Norstedt & Sons in Stockholm in 500 copies. Distribution and sales were partly managed by the authors but also by Samson & Wallin, publishers. Finances were supplied by a patron, who paid 20 000 Swedish Crowns, which met the cost of paper, printing and binding. The binding was entrusted to Alfred Lundin, who came to bound all of Retzius’s coming publications. Late in the autumn of 1875 the first volume was finally published, and they worked intensively on the second. But then a fatal fire broke out in Stockholm, one of the greatest that century. The printing office, Centraltryckeriet at Vasagatan in Stockholm, was totally burnt down. Seedorf, one of the most prominent lithographers, died in the blaze. For Key and Retzius, this meant that, apart from losing a compentent co-worker, all the printed material for volume two was destroyed, original manuscripts, engraved stones, printed plates – all of it. Several years of preparation and microscope work had went up in smoke. Nevertheless, they immediately decided to take up the work again, and, as Retzius laconically observed, the second time would proceed faster. They had to make new series of preparations, but now Retzius was used to it. Also the two draftsmen were then practised. Retzius wrote almost the entire text to Volume Two anew at breakneck speed. For this issue, they contented themselves not only with lithograpic colour printing and stone engraving, but among the 36 plates some copperplates appeared, engraved by W. Grohmann in Berlin. Part Two was published in the autumn of 1876, thereby freeing Retzius of a proejct that had continued for seven years. As the entire work did not fit into Volume Two the rest, a passage concerning the binding tissues, was saved for a separate part, which was to be finsihed by Key. That part was partly finished in 1876; several plates and 11 sheets of text had been printed, but for various reasons was never published as Key never had time to finish it. When he died in 1901, Retzius took on the work, dug out the already printed sheets and saw that the remaining text, which had been corrected several years since, was printed. It had been agreed that Key would finish this concluding part of the work. Retzius was aware that its present state was that of a torso and wrote in the foreword (which exists in two versions) that only a small number of copies was to be distributed to a few libraries in Scandinavia. This conluding part, Volume Two: Second Part, was never distributed for the market and exists in a very few copies only, bound by Alfred Lundin and is certainly one of the rarest among Swedish scientific books. This magnificent two-volume work in folio was grandly received and won the Prix Montyon of the French Academy of Sciences. It surpassed all expectations and orders were streaming in. Key and Retzius made sure that every important anatomist should receive their copy: Rudolf Virchow in Berlin, Huxley and Darwin in London, Albrecht von Kölliker in Würzburg, Henle in Göttingen, Hasse in Breslau and of course a magnificent bound set for the King of Sweden, Oscar II. The king wanted to thank them with a medal, but Key refused, having promised his liberal friends never to receive an order. Retzius, too, had to demur. The subscription price was 180 Swedish Crowns, which corresponded to half the monthly wage of a professor. Once the project was economically viable, the authors distributed free copies to colleagues and instititions abroad who had not been able to afford it. A copy inscribed by the authors to Claude Bernard in Paris was recently found in a dust container outside one of the Karolinska Institutet buildings but is now saved for the Hagströmer Medico-Historical Library.

Collation: Vol. I: pp (12) 220, with 39 plates; vol. II:1: pp (8), 228, with 36 plates. Vol. II:2: pp (2), 69, (1), with 8 lithographed plates, each with one leaf of explanation. Among the 83 extremely fine plates 17 are copper engravings and 66 lithographed in strikingly beautiful colours.

Binding: Three volumes in the original half morooco, title in bold gilt lettering on front covers.

References: Thomas Lindblad, ‘Retzius ur glömskan’ i Bokvännen 428, pp 3-8. Waller 5279 (Volume 1 only).

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