16th century books

16th Century Book Can Be Read Six Different Ways

It’s not everyday you see a book that can be read in six completely different ways, and this small book from the National Library of Sweden is definitely an anomaly. According to Medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel, this 16th century text has a special sixfold dos-à-dos (or “back to back”) binding with strategically placed clasps that makes it possible for six books to be neatly bound into one. This particular book contains devotional texts, including Martin Luther’s Der kleine Catechismus, which was printed in German between the 1550’s and 1570’s.

While it could be hard to keep your place in this book, you can’t ignore that the engineering of it is quite a feat. In the age of the Kindle, Nook, and iPad, it’s a nice reminder of handcrafted ingenuity.


Peter Apian’s Cosmographia, originally published in 1524, was based on the writings of Ptolemy. It provided instruction in astronomy, geography, cartography, navigation, instrument-making, weather and climate, and map projections. It is illustrated with some of the earliest maps of the Americas and includes a number of moveable parts, also known as volvelles or the “Apian Wheel.”

A volvelle is a paper instrument that dates to the 11th century and is made of rotating paper disks attached to the center. In the 16th century they were used to calculate time and distance and were used in many different subject areas such as astronomy and astrology.

At Special Collections you can find the 1553 and 1584 edition. The images above are from the 1584 edition. If you are interested in seeing images from the 1553 edition, take a look at this earlier post from last year.

-Jennifer Needham