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


▪Sphaera Mundi.
Author: Johannes de Sacrobosco (John Holybush) (British (?), active Paris ca. 1220–ca. 1256)
Author: George von Peuerbach (Austrian, Peuerbach 1423–1461 Vienna)
Author: Johann Regiomontanus (German, Königsberg 1436–1476 Rome)
Publisher: Erhard Ratdolt (German, Augsburg ca. 1447–ca. 1528 Augsburg)
Published in: Venice
Date: 1485
Medium: Printed book with woodcut illustrations printed or colored with stencils in one, two, and three colors. Many marginal notes and sketches in brown ink.

Hello, ALA Preservation Week!

It’s the American Library Association’s Preservation Week, and we’ll be sharing some of the cool stuff happening in our own preservation department today through Friday.

Today on Verso, book conservator Kristi Westberg describes the process of performing repairs on a copy of a 16th-century astronomy book censored by the Roman Catholic Church. Kristi used something called solvent set tissue to make her repairs, and she made the solvent set tissue in-house. Here’s a peek at the process:

First, Kristi pours an adhesive called Klucel G into a tray.

Next, she uses a brush to pick up some of the adhesive.

She then spreads a thin layer of the adhesive onto a sheet of clear polyester.

Finally, she lays a piece of lightweight Japanese paper on the adhesive.

Then she leaves it to dry. Voilà! Solvent set tissue! Head to Verso to read about how Kristi used the tissue in her repairs.

Written in the 16th century by Peter Apian (1495-1552), Cosmographia provided instruction in astronomy, geography, cartography, navigation, and instrument-making and was based on the writings of Ptolemy. 

The most surprising feature of the book, given the time as which it was created, is the use of three-dimension, interactive additions to the text that are offered for the reader to use as reference, referred to as volvelle, or the Apian wheel. Star charts like these consist of multiple layers of cut and shaped paper fastened together with string, that can be rotated to find information about stars at different times.  

There is also an exquisitely drawn fold-out map of the various winds, depicted as Gods.

It’s no surprise that this book remained in use for hundreds of years, and continues to be used even today. At Special Collections, you can find the 1553 edition.

-Written by Katharine Pigliacelli, graduate student employee

Apian, Peter. Cosmographia. Antverpiae: Ex officina Arnoldi Coninx, 1584.