I recently wrote a post for the University of Edinburgh’s Rare Books Blog about this lovely incunable, a Koberger Bible printed in Berlin in 1483, and how it serves as an interesting intersection between manuscript and print. Give it a read!

I just wanted to share a few pictures here that didn’t make the final cut for the post- check out the plague of locusts and the Armageddon scene!

Illuminated initial R

This page from a fifteenth-century printed book is hand-decorated in gold, silver, and colours. The gold and silver are applied before the colours as it is a messy activity and can involve trimming with a knife, which would damage any existing colours. The letter R, in blue with white tracery on a gold background, is set within a red and green frame. The three-sided border is of floral acanthus design with silver bezants (small circular ornaments). At some stage during the binding process this book was trimmed too close to the decoration and some decoration has been lost, especially noticeable at the top of the page.

Gregorius I., Moralia, sive Expositio in Job (Venice: Reynaldus de Novimagio, 14 June 1480), leaf c2r. qRInc GREG Mora 1480.


The Margarita Philosophica (“Pearl of Knowledge”) is an early compendium of knowledge by Gregor Reisch, published in 1504 in Heidelberg. It contains sections on astronomy, astrology, geometry, grammar, medicine, music, and rhetoric, among others, and is one of the most important encyclopedias of knowledge of the early Renaissance. It first appeared in 1503 and served as the main textbook for university students for at least half a century. 

Here’s my complete set of photographs of this volume. Our copy is a beautiful book, inside and out; 16th century quarter-leather binding with wood boards, blind-stamped decorations in the leather. The original metal clasps and fixtures are present as well.  The illustrations are hand-colored and there are notations, underlining, and marginalia throughout.

A complete digitized copy is now available online at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. 

THE STRIFE OF LOVE IN A DREAM - The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Author Unknown (though speculated), Artist Unknown. Venice, 1499

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If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumber’d here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream… Clearly, (and there are plenty of other echoes) Shakespeare got his hands on the 1592 English translation of this book (which is less than perfect. It contained only about 1/3 of the text, but still). Also: Fantastical woodcuts. A forest full of architectural cockblocks. Lovers. Rejection. Death. A cemetery of lovers lost. And things like that.  

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is a mysterious, glorious incunabule (slight digression just to coo over that term, meaning a book printed, not handwritten, in Europe before 1500, and translating as swaddling clothes, or a book made in the infancy of printing, oh, whirr, whirr!) in 1499. The beloved in the book is a woman named, Polia, or Many Things, who is pursued by the hero of the story, Poliphilo, into a forest full of buildings, dragons, wolves, and dreams within dreams. 

O, yes, this would be a pleasing, pleasing 15th century antecedent to oh, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and much later, Little Nemo in Slumberland. And there are plenty of other pleasing things about it, too. 

This book is an anonymous love story, but has an acrostic identifier formed by the decorated letter chapter headers:  POLIAM FRATER FRANCISCVS COLVMNA PERAMAVIT, “Brother Francesco Colonna has dearly loved Polia.” So, Brother Francesco, you were a wonderful strangeness. You made up a language when your own did not suit you, coining words. The book is written in Italian, but with Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Latinate inventions, as well as a few random hieroglyphs. It was likely very hard to read even for its intended audience.

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Here is the entire Hypnerotomachia Poliphili facsimile

More here, in a great article about the book, and here, in an essay in praise of Paper Architecture, or unbuildable glorious projects committed to paper rather than stone. 

And if you still don’t believe me, everything I like, John Crowley likes too, and has already (brilliantly) plundered. It’s a good thing I am blind smitten with John’s brain, otherwise I’d be all jealous and wrathful that I was born too late to catch up with his snatching of classic curiosities. Love & Sleep, the second in Crowley’s Aegypt Cycle, takes its title, and some of its plottings from the Hypnerotomachia. Go read him now.  


You might also like: 14th Century Autobiographical Anthropomorphic Maps; Fish Flying into Double Landscape; Grimemoire; Fay Ku’s Harvest of Eyeballs; The Book Was Written in English, and Contained 1001 Pages; Roland Topor’s Book Road.


I’ve spent most of the day today preparing for a class visit from one of Dr. Michael Saenger’s classes on Monday - looking at pre-1650 books. We’re fortunate to have a strong collection in this area, so it was difficult to choose and then arrange the books and objects to tell a narrative. My cart is full of these treasures (above) and our central space is prepared for Dr. Saenger to have class on Monday. I’m excited to welcome them to the space and facilitate their understanding and direct interaction with these titles! Here’s a list of the titles Doreen and I pulled for the class:

  1. Assyrian Cuneiform Clay Tablet (2049 BCE)
  2. Graduale (16th Century)
  3. A Noble Fragment (Gutenberg Leaf, 1450-1455)
  4. Biblia Latina: cum postillis Nicolai de Lyra (1482)
  5. Historiae Ecclesiasticae (1479)
  6. De Evangelica Praeparatione (Eusebius, 1501)
  7. Book of Hours Leaf (ca. 1534)
  8. Wider die Antinomer (Luther, 1539)
  9. Coverdale Bible Leaf (1535)
  10. The True and Lyuely Historyke Purtreatured of the VVell Bible (1553)
  11. The Bible (Geneva Bible, 1606)
  12. Book of Common Prayer (1629)
  13. The VVhole Booke of Davids Psalmes (1631)
  14. Brutum Fulmen (1681)
  15. Novus Index Librorum Prohibitorum (1627)
  16. The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living (1690)
  17. A Holy Commonwealth (1659)
  18. Opera (Chrysostom, 1517)
  19. Selections (Raleigh, 1650)
  20. Helvetiorum Respublica (1627)



1480’s once again

I have been meaning to add a couple of pictures of the incunable I did some work on last spring. I was asked to dismantle and clean a nice example of the species, and then resew it; In the end I wasn’t the one who made the new wood and leather covers for it, which makes me a bit glad to be honest. However, I took some pictures of the details. It was nice to get to handle such a well-preserved and clean book, especially because most of the older books I have repaired have been in hideous condition.

The name incunable refers to the first printed books that were made in Europe before the year 1501. Often they had hand-drawn or painted initials and sometimes illustrations. This one has handdrawn details in red ink for the first half of the book. I guess someone got bored after that. 

From what I gather, this is a 1480’s sermon book written by the Dominican friar Martin of Troppau. It is printed in Strasbourg (curiously referred to as Argentine in medieval Latin) on rag paper with the common bull’s head + cross watermark. The book is pictured here without its mismatched wooden covers, and with the original cords cut off for resewing. 

Thomas Mahieu’s copy of Seneca, Lucius Annaeus: Epistolae ad Lucilium by University of Glasgow Library on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Seneca, Lucius Annaeus: Epistolae ad Lucilium. Paris: [Au Soufflet Vert (Louis Symonel et Socii)], 1475. Rear cover of binding made for Thomas Mahieu/Maiolus, secretary to Catherine de Médicis: France, mid 16th-century olive green, gold-tooled morocco, with a design of uncoloured interlacing; in the centre of the cover is Mahieu’s monogram “TDM”. Sp Coll By.3.36.

La Chronique de Nuremberg. L'éditeur et imprimeur était Anton Koberger, le beau-père d'Albrecht Dürer, qui, l'année de la naissance de ce dernier (1471), cessa d'être orfèvre pour exercer le métier du livre. Il devint vite l'éditeur ayant le plus réussi en Allemagne, dont l'atelier comptait à son apogée un nombre important pour l'époque d'apprentis, soit une centaine (typographes, correcteurs, enlumineurs, relieurs, graveurs, etc.), et regroupant jusqu'à 24 presses et ouvrant plusieurs filiales dans le pays et à l'étranger, notamment à Lyon et Budapest. [Divers types d'hommes monstrueux, bestiaire médiéval.]


Albertus Magnus, Summa de Sacramento Eucharistiae, Cologne : J. Guldenschaff, 1477


We are sharing another exciting re-discovery from Downside Abbey Library, on this, the birthday of the Pre-Raphaelite associate and father of the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris (1834-1896).

This incunable (a book printed before 1501) came to us through one of our most important donors, David Rogers, former Head of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library. It once sat on a shelf at William Morris’s last home, Kelmscott House, and would have provided inspiration for the books he printed at the Kelmscott Press; the first and most famous of the private presses. It was fine, early printing like this that Morris was trying to emulate, through utilising good quality materials and hand-printing the text.


Today’s foray into the vault reveals an illuminated incunable Bible from 1483! (at Special Collections at Southwestern University)

Biblia latina (cum postillis Nicolai de Lyra et expositionibus Guillelmi Britonis in omnes prologos S. Hieronymi et additionibus Pauli Burgensis replicisque Matthiae Doering). Add: Nicolaus de Lyra: Contra perfidiam Judaeorum Venice: Franciscus Renner, de Heilbronn, 1482-83. 220.47 B471v 1483. Special Collections, Southwestern University. ISTC no. ib00612000