Sarsaparilla from Francisco Bravo

Sarsaparilla from Francisco Bravo's Opera Medicinalia (1570).

Detail map of Centro, Ciudad de México, Ciudad de México, Mexico,Rouen, Normandie, France

A: Centro, Ciudad de México, Ciudad de México, Mexico, B: Rouen, Normandie, France

Francisco Bravo Issues the First Medical Book Printed in the Western Hemisphere with the Earliest Illustrations of Plants Printed in the Western Hemisphere

Title page of Francisco Bravo

Title page of Francisco Bravo's Opera medicinalia (1570).

Printer Pedro Ocharte, born Pierre Ocharte in Rouen, France, working in Mexico City, issued Opera medicinalia by the Spanish physician, Francisco Bravo in 1570. Ocharte had married the daughter of Juan Pablos, the first printer in the New World, and had inherited his equipment. Opera medicinalia included a woodcut title border and a few botanical woodcuts, including images to distinguish the false sarsaparilla of Mexico from the true Spanish sarsaparilla of Dioscorides. It was the first medical book printed in the Western Hemisphere, and its botanical images were the first illustrations of plants printed in the Western Hemisphere.

"In 1571, a year after Ocharte printed Opera Medicinalia, he and his assistant Juan Ortiz (1538–ca. 1595) were arrested by the Holy Inquisition and subjected to brutal torture for allegedly having “heretical opinions;” the reality was that others may have denounced them because they were jealous of Ocharte’s success and wealth and because he and Ortiz were non-Spanish (Ortiz was also born in France). Ocharte’s press continued to produce books during his imprisonment, which ended in 1574, and he went on to print books until 1592. The last book he printed was also a medical book, Agustín Farfan’s Tractado Brebe de Medicina. By coincidence, the former office and prison of the Holy Inquisition in Mexico City where Ocharte was held is now the Museo de Medicina Mexicana, a museum focusing on the history of medicine in Mexico." (

Of the original edition only two copies are known, of which the only complete copy is at the La Biblioteca José María Lafragua at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in Mexico. In 1862 American bookseller and bibliographer Henry Stevens purchased an incomplete copy at an auction sale of the library of collector/dealer/book thief Guglielmo Libri in London. This he resold to the American collector James Lennox. The Lennox copy is preserved in the New York Public Library.

In 1970 London antiquarian booksellers Dawsons of Pall issued a facsimile of the complete Universidad de Puebla copy with a companion volume of commentary by Francisco Guerra. The two volumes were printed on hand-made paper by J. Barcham Green, Ltd. and bound in parchment by Zaehnsdorf in London. The edition was limited to 250 hand-numbered copies.

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