Book History

Author: Alonso de Molina
Alonso de Molina was a Franciscan monk who lived in Spanish controlled New Spain, which later became Mexico. The accepted date for Molina’s birth is 1513, and he died in 1579. As a Franciscan monk, Molina worked in New Spain as a missionary but he was interested in the grammar and language of the native peoples of Mexico. To that end, Molina compiled a grammar and dictionary that described the Nahuatl language and compared it to the Castellan language.
Bibliographic Information
This work was published “En casa de” (literally: In the house of) Antonio de Spinosa (other accepted spellings include Espinosa, Spinoza, Espinoza) in 1571. There are approximately 285 leaves that are printed on both sides, making the book 570 pages long. This binding includes two volumes of the Vocabulary, one that translates from Nahuatl (the language native to many different nations/tribes in modern day Mexico) to Castilian (the Spanish word for the Spanish language) while the other translates from Castellan to Nahuatl. Both volumes are arranged in alphabetical order, with each volume beginning with the letter “A”. Molina is the only author of any part of this work listed, however there is an inscription at the beginning of each section of the book that states the work was dedicated to(commissioned by/presented to) Don Martin Enriquez, the Viceroy of New Spain in 1571. Whether or not this work was commissioned by or presented to Don Martin Enriquez is not clear from the information given. Molina did add his own preface to the work, but this preface mainly serves to provide tips to keep in mind while reading the book and studying the Nahuatl grammar and language.
Physical Description
The book measures 11 ¾ inches long, 8 ¼ inches wide, and 1 ½ inches tall, is bound in embossed leather, and is printed on linen paper. There is a great amount of detail in the embossed portions of the cover (both front and back), and also what appears to be portions of the cover that are raised by using implants within the cover.
Illustrator: N/A
There are several prints included in this work, including a crest (shield), a monk kneeling to pray, and a saint holding a crucifix, however no information about the illustrator or the source of the prints is included in the book.
Publisher: Antonio de Spinosa
“En casa de Antonio de Spinosa” is the only notation given to a printer/publisher in this work. Spinosa was born in Jaén, Spain and moved to Mexico City in 1550 under contract as a type founder and die cutter to another printer named Juan Pablos.
Many of the manifestations of this text that are available are in e-book format, and hard text versions of this book are fairly expensive. A copy of this work was sold in an auction held in Paris in May of 2011 for $41,261.
Blair, Ann M. Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Calvo, Hortensia. “The Politics of Print: The Historiography of the Book in Early Spanish America.” Book History 6 (2003): 277-305.

Clayton, Mary L. and R. Joe Campbell. “Alonso de Molina as Lexicographer” in Making Dictionaries: Preserving Indigenous Languages of the Americas, edited by William J Frawley, Kenneth C. Hill, Pamela Munro 336-390. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.
Spanish colonies existed in both North and South America starting in the early 1500’s. Mexico City was home to one of the Spanish colony’s more prevalent print communities, with printers who had been printing books since the mid 16th century. Popular authors that had works printed in Mexico City ranged from scientists to military officers to religious officials, and their works covered a variety of topics. Regardless of theme or author, the production of these books was a difficult undertaking because all of the materials for these books had to be made in Europe and shipped over to New Spain. The mere survival of a printed work from this time period and area is rare, especially considering how delicate these books become the older they get. One such surviving work was written by Alonso de Molina and published in Mexico City in 1571.

Alonso de Molina was a Franciscan monk who lived and missioned in the Spanish colonies of the New World. As a monk, Molina’s primary goal was to minister to the native peoples of New Spain and convert them to the Christian faith; however, Molina also had a passion for languages which translated itself into the work for which he is most well known, Vocabulario en lengua castellana y méxicana (Vocabulary of the Castellan and Mexican Languages). This work was published in Mexico City in 1571 by Antonio de Spinosa and dedicated to the Viceroy of New Spain, Don Martin Enriquez. It is not certain how many copies of the grammar were published, but surviving copies of the work mostly exist in eBook format.

Vocabulario en lengua mexicana y castellana is a grammar that contains what amount to basic language lessons and a dictionary of the language native to many indigenous Mexican peoples, Nahuatl. The amount of work that went into creating and publishing this work is enormous. It required Father Alonso to make an intensive study of the Nahuatl language and understand it enough to put his findings into written form. Because the work was dedicated to the Viceroy of New Spain, it is possible that the grammar was requested, but there are no records of the reasons for this publication of the Vocabulario.

This particular copy of the Vocabulario is in very good condition. The binding is somewhat fragile, but all the pages are intact and still connected to the spine. At some point in this books history, it suffered minor fire damage, but again all of the pages are intact.

The Vocabulario en lengua mexicana y castellana is important not only because of its age and the history it represents, but also because of its content. One of the first things that arriving European forces sought to do when they began colonizing the New World was erase many mentions of Native Mexican culture. The fact that a Spanish Franciscan monk took the time to record the Nahuatl language and to preserve such an important piece of indigenous culture gives a powerful insight into the culture and society of the Native peoples, but also shows some of the early interactions between Native subjects and European conquerors.

Submitted by Victoria Skaggs
Published: 1571
Call Number: RARE PM 4066.M72