Quilatador, de la plata, oro, y piedras, conforme a las leyes reales, y para declaracion de ellas. Juan de ARFE Y. VILLAFAÑE.
Arfe’s Official Handbook on Silver, Gold and Precious Stones
Metallurgical Assaying and the Effects of American Bullion
On Spanish Monetary Policy
Madrid, Guillermo Drouy, 1598.

Quilatador, de la plata, oro, y piedras, conforme a las leyes reales, y para declaracion de ellas.

8vo [14.2 x 10.0 cm], (16) ff., 144 [i.e. 244] ff. (numerous pagination errors), with armorial woodcut on title page, woodcut author portrait, woodcut of Arphe’s monogram, and woodcut device. Bound in 17th-century mottled calf, upper and lower covers gold stamped with arms of Luis Francisco de Benavides Carrillo de Toledo, Marquis of Caracena, Marquis of Fromista (1608-68; see below), sprinkled edges. Rebacked in mottled calf, endpapers renewed, minor rubbing and edge wear to covers. Early cancelled inscriptions to title page and blank margin of author portrait, contemporary manuscript diagrams of diamond sizes in margins at ff. 217-18, occasional generally minor spotting and staining, a few marginal notes shaved.

This rare handbook by the renowned sculptor-goldsmith-theorist Juan de Arfe y Villafañe (1535-1600) – not to be confused with the author’s similar title of 1572 – presents the most influential information on the assaying of silver, gold, gemstones and a variety of other commodities published on the Iberian peninsula during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The work is particularly important for our understanding of Spanish monetary practices during the ‘Spanish Price Revolution,’ an era of high inflation caused by the large influx of gold and silver transported to Europe by the Spanish treasure fleet from the New World, principally Mexico and Peru. 

Arfe’s reputation was built on his extensive experience as a practicing goldsmith and art theorist. His metallurgical expertise, however, led Phillip II to appoint him Chief Assayer at the Mints of Segovia (both the Casa Veija and the recently founded Royal Mint), where much of the precious metal from the Americas was transported to be stamped into coinage. The Royal Mill had been established in 1586 using the latest German waterwheel technology, and legal reforms concerning coinage strategy and economic policy were also introduced at that time. Arfe notes in the “Discuro a los Lectores” prefacing this 1598 work that he was “obliged to publish a new Quilatador” to establish best practices which his predecessors had neglected to standardize.

The 1598 Quilatador is sometimes referred to, mistakenly, as the second edition of the author’s similarly titled 1572 Quilatador, but it is in fact written for a different audience and should be understood as a separate work. While the three-book 1572 Quilatador is considered a “much respected treatise written for the edification of apprentices, goldsmiths, and jewelers as well as those interested in precious metals and cut gems generally” (Sinkankas 215), the five-book 1598 Quilatador expanded its text and widened its audience to include government officials, policy makers, mint authorities, certified assayers, and the like. The 1598 Quilatador, crucially, included laws underpinning monetary policy, and its presentation was shaped for users for whom such matters were of critical importance. In his commentaries on the new laws, Arfe discusses methods of assaying, purifying, and alloying silver and gold, tabulates official ratios of precious to base metals, discusses marks that must be used to signify purity, the use of acid tests, and other information essential to the successful and legal use of the precious metal. The book also contains early, reliable, detailed information on weighing, sizing, and valuing precious gems against prescribed standards. Treated are the diamond, ruby, emerald, spinel, balas (spinel), sapphire, emerald of Brazil (probably green tourmaline), topaz, jacinth (zircon), amethyst (sapphire in part), chrysolite, sardonyx, garnet, rock crystal, pearl, turquoise, agate, coral, etc. All are described in terms of appearance and some discussed in terms of sources and types (and occasionally magical and medicinal virtues). Importantly, most of the gems are compared in terms of value to other standard gemstones of top rank, with numerous tables giving gemstones, weights in quilates, and values in Spanish reales. Arphe, according to Lenzen, (Qualitätsmerkmale des Diamanten) provides the first discussion of the ‘square of the weight’ rule for pricing cut diamonds, a rule that was later repeated by Tavernier in his Travels, which, probably due to the scarcity of the present work and the wide publicity given to Tavernier’s book, came to be called the ‘Tavernier rule.’  Interestingly, in this copy, a contemporary reader was apparently especially interested in diamonds, for he added drawings in the margins of ten graduated sizes of the gem based on Arfe’s tables.

In 1793 Beawes noted that, “Many Spanish Authors have written on the Methods of regulating the Value of their Money by Assays. Juan de Arphe Villafane, Assay-master in the Mint of Segovia, published his Quilatador in the Year 1598; in which he prescribed the Rules that have since been followed, and on which the Laws treating this Matter have been established” (W. Beawes, A Civil, Commercial, Political, and Literary History of Spain and Portugal, p. 266). Coins minted at Segovia while Arfe was Ensayador Mayor carry the mark “FE.”

Juan de Arfe was the third in a line of renowned metalworkers originally hailing from Germany – following his grandfather, Enrique, and father, Antonio – and is known to have been active as an artist in Valladolid, Sevilla, and Madrid. His custodias (monstrances) at the Cathedral of Sevilla and Avila remain celebrated works of Renaissance goldsmithing in the classical mode, showing the influence of Donatello and Bramante, among others. In the Quilatador he mentions Enrique and Antonio, as well as his metalwork in Sevilla, Avila and Burgos, and even the metallurgical writings of “Benbenuto Zelino” (Cellini). Nor were his artistic talents confined to liturgical objects: “Arfe’s last sculptural works of life-size human figures, such as the exquisite tomb monument for the Archbishop of Seville, Don Cristóbal de Rojas, reveal his development as a leading naturalist of the late Spanish Renaissance” (Skaarup, 253; see principally Sanz, and Fajardo for Arfe’s artistic activity). In addition to the Quilatador de plata, oro y piedras, Arfe published De Varia Commensuracion para la Esculptura, y Architectura (Sevilla, Andrea Pescioni y Juan de Leon, 1585), an exceedingly influential treatise on the practice of art and on architectural theory, and Descripción de la traça y ornato de la custodia de plata de la Sancta Yglesia de Sevilla (1587), a short tract on metalwork.

Provenance: The volume carries on its upper and lower covers the gold-tooled arms of Luis Francisco de Benavides Carrillo de Toledo, Marquis of Caracena, Marquis of Fromista (1608-68), a notable Spanish general and political figure who served as Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands between 1659 and 1664 and was Capitán General of the Armadas y Flotas de la Carrera de Indias in 1664-65. This provenance would seem to reflect the official nature of Arfe’s text and its readership.

OCLC locates U.S. examples of the 1598 Quilatador at Harvard, Minnesota, Brown and Smith College.

* Alden 598/5; Palau 16054; Sinkankas, Gemmology: An Annotated Bibliography, no. 217; Cristóbal Pérez Pastor, Bibliografía madrileña del Siglo xvi, no. 561; BM STC, Spanish Books S. 9.; Index Aurel. 107.218.; Honeyman Coll. 138; María Jesús Sanz, ed., Centenario de la Muerte de Juan de Arfe (1603-2003); B. O. Skaarup, Anatomy and Anatomists in Early Modern Spain; J. L. C. Fajardo, Perceptiva gráfica de Juan de Arfe: Análisis y transcendecia de su Teoría Artística sobre la figura humana; I. A. Leonard, “On the Mexican Book Trade, 1683,” The Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 27, no. 3 (1947), pp. 403-435; O. H. Green and I. A. Leonard, “On the Mexican Booktrade in 1600: A Chapter in Cultural History,” Hispanic Review, vol. 9, No. 1, (1941), pp. 1-40.


Price: $18,000.00

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