Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch was a successful entrepreneur and very much a man of the Age of Enlightenment. He combined an interest in cataloging and categorizing all fields of human knowledge in the arts and sciences in encyclopedic form with an interest in mass education, which he saw as means of social progress and self-improvement for all economic classes. Bertuch was born in Weimar, Germany, where his father was a garrison physician in service to the duke. Orphaned at the age of 15, he lived with his uncle and pursued an education in theology and law. He learned Spanish and translated Don Quixote into German, and wrote original works. At age 28, he was appointed the private secretary to the young duke Karl August. Soon thereafter, he co-founded a school for workers and a factory for artificial flowers to provide “beneficial work” for “unfortunately unemployed” young women. He diversified this into publishing, training the workers in his school. Bertuch launched fashion magazines in 1786 and 1787 with which he could also advertise the products of his factories and he also established a cottage industry exchange for artisans and manufacturers to sell their goods, becoming the largest employer in Weimar. His son Carl (or Karl) Bertuch (b. 1777) was also a writer and publisher, who associated with the leading scholars of his day, including Goethe, Cotta and Cuvier. Both Bertuchs traveled to the Viennese Congress in 1814 as part of a delegation of German booksellers to lobby for freedom of the press and copyright protection.
In 1790, Bertuch began his major publishing project, Bilderbuch für Kinder [Children’s Picture Book], the first comprehensive pictorial encyclopedia for children. The Bilderbuch represents a landmark in educational publishing: a 12-volume set with 1185 vibrantly hand-colored engraved illustrations. It was published in German, French and two other languages, and publication continued until 1830.The encyclopedia was divided into 14 sections, 10 of which concern natural history, a favorite subject of the period. The rest describe and illustrate worlds peoples and costumes, architecture, antiquities, and miscellaneous items, including new technologies such as hot-air balloons and steamboats. Bertuch’s guiding educational philosophy was to engage children in learning via plentiful illustrations that were in his words, “beautifully and correctly drawn,” in order to give children “a true representation” of the objects depicted. In order to capture a child’s interest, he mandated that the pictures be uncluttered and colorful, and feature rare and unusual phenomena wherever possible. Thus, the encyclopedia was illustrated throughout with vivid and detailed copperplate engravings that were scientifically accurate and sophisticated in their composition and execution. 200 years later, the Bilderbuch illustrations retain their appeal and also serve as an invaluable resource of cultural history.
Full Title: Bilderbuch für Kinder: enthaltend eine angenehme Sammlung von Thieren, Pflanzen, Blumen, Früchten, Mineralien, Trachten und allerhand andern unterrichten Gegenständen aus dem Reiche der Natur, der Künste und Wissenschaften; alle nach den besten Originalen gewählt, gestochen, und mit einer kurzen wissenschaften, und den Verstandes-Kräften eines kindes angemessenen Erklärung begleitet
[Picture Book for Children: containing a delightful collection of animals, plants, flowers, fruits, minerals, costumes and many different informative articles from the realm of nature, the arts and sciences; everything selected and engraved after the best originals…and accompanied by explanations appropriate for the mind of a child]
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Some platemarks close to margins, as issued and typical for this set.
“Bertuch und sein ‘Bilderbuch.’” Deutches Museum. http://www.deutsches-museum.de/bibliothek/unsere-schaetze/enzyklopaedien/bertuch-bilderbuch/bertuch-und-sein-bilderbuch/ (22 July 2009).
“Bilderbuch für Kinder. Buch des Monats 08/99.” Deutches Museum. Originally published August 1999. http://www.deutsches-museum.de/bibliothek/unsere-schaetze/enzyklopaedien/bertuch-bilderbuch/ (22 July 2009).