“Incunabula” redirects here. For other uses, see Incunabula (disambiguation).Page from Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia, printed in red and black by Peter Schöffer (Mainz, 1471). The page exhibits a rubricated initial letter “U” and decorations, marginalia, and ownership stamps of the “Bibliotheca Gymnasii Altonani” (Hamburg).Illumination with doodles and drawings (marginalia), including an open-mouthed human profile, with multiple tongues sticking out. Copulata, “De Anima”, f. 2a. HMD Collection, WZ 230 M772c 1485.Image of two facing pages from “Phisicorum”, fols. 57b and 58a, with doodles and drawings. HMD Collection, WZ 230 M772c 1485.An incunable, or sometimes incunabulum (plural incunables or incunabula, respectively), is a book, pamphlet, or broadside (such as the Almanach cracoviense ad annum 1474) that was printed—not handwritten—before the year 1501 in Europe.As of 2014, there are about 30,000 distinct incunable editions known to be extant, while the number of surviving copies in Germany alone is estimated at around 125,000.
“Incunable” is the anglicised singular form of incunabula, Latin for “swaddling clothes” or “cradle”, which can refer to “the earliest stages or first traces in the development of anything”. A former term for “incunable” is “fifteener”, referring to the 15th century.It has often been said that the first recorded use of incunabula as a printing term would be in the Latin pamphlet De ortu et progressu artis typographicae (“On the rise and progress of the typographic art”, Cologne, 1639) by Bernhard von Mallinckrodt, which includes the phrase prima typographicae incunabula, “the first infancy of printing”, a term to which he arbitrarily set an end of 1500 which still stands as a convention.However, a study in 2009 identified an earlier source than Mallinckrodt for this lexical invention; instead, credit appears to belong to the Dutch physician Hadrianus Junius (Adriaan de Jonghe, 1511/1512–1575). In his Batavia, published in Leiden in 1588 but written in 1569, Junius used the term “incunabula” when referring to the time of the first productions of the typographic technique: “…id observatum fuerat inter prima artis incunabula”.The term incunabula came to denote the printed books themselves in the late 17th century. John Evelyn, in moving the Arundel Manuscripts to the Royal Society in August 1678, remarked of the printed books among the manuscripts: “The printed books, being of the oldest impressions, are not the less valuable; I esteem them almost equal to MSS.” The convenient but arbitrarily chosen end date for identifying a printed book as an incunable does not reflect any notable developments in the printing process, and many books printed for a number of years after 1500 continued to be visually indistinguishable from incunables.”Post-incunable” typically refers to books printed after 1500 up to another arbitrary end date such as 1520 or 1540. From around this period the dating of any edition becomes easier, as the inclusion of information by printers – such as place and year of printing – became more widespread.
There are two types of incunabula in printing: the Block book printed from a single carved or sculpted wooden block for each page, employing the same process as the woodcut in art (these may be called xylographic), and the typographic book, made with individual pieces of cast metal movable type on a printing press. Many authors reserve the term incunabula for the typographic ones only.The spread of printing to cities both in the north and in Italy ensured that there was great variety in the texts chosen for printing and the styles in which they appeared. Many early typefaces were modelled on local forms of writing or derived from the various European forms of Gothic script, but there were also some derived from documentary scripts (such as most of Caxton’s types), and, particularly in Italy, types modelled on handwritten scripts and calligraphy employed by humanists.Printers congregated in urban centres where there were scholars, ecclesiastics, lawyers, nobles and professionals who formed their major customer base. Standard works in Latin inherited from the medieval tradition formed the bulk of the earliest printing, but as books became cheaper, works in the various local vernaculars (or translations of standard works) began to appear.
First incunable with illustrations, Ulrich Boner’s Der Edelstein, printed by Albrecht Pfister, Bamberg, 1461.The most famous incunabula include two from Mainz, the Gutenberg Bible of 1455 and the Peregrinatio in terram sanctam of 1486, printed and illustrated by Erhard Reuwich; the Nuremberg Chronicle written by Hartmann Schedel and printed by Anton Koberger in 1493; and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili printed by Aldus Manutius with important illustrations by an unknown artist.Other printers of incunabula were Günther Zainer of Augsburg, Johannes Mentelin and Heinrich Eggestein of Strasbourg, Heinrich Gran of Haguenau and William Caxton of Bruges and London. The first incunable to have woodcut illustrations was Ulrich Boner’s Der Edelstein, printed by Albrecht Pfister in Bamberg in 1461.
Many incunabula are undated, needing complex bibliographical analysis to place them correctly. The post-incunabula period marks a time of development during which the printed book evolved fully as a mature artefact with a standard format. After c1540 books tended to conform to a template that included the author, title-page, date, seller, and place of printing. This makes it much easier to identify any particular edition.As noted above, the end date for identifying a printed book as an incunable is convenient but was chosen arbitrarily; it does not reflect any notable developments in the printing process around the year 1500. Books printed for a number of years after 1500 continued to look much like incunables, with the notable exception of the small format books printed in italic type introduced by Aldus Manutius in 1501. The term post-incunable is sometimes used to refer to books printed “after 1500—how long after, the experts have not yet agreed.” For books printed in the UK, the term generally covers 1501–1520, and for books printed in Europe, 1501–1540.
Printing townsDistribution by regionDistribution by languageThe data in this section were derived from the Incunabula Short-Title Catalogue (ISTC).Printing towns: The number of printing towns and cities stands at 282. These are situated in some 18 countries in terms of present-day boundaries. In descending order of the number of editions printed in each, these are: Italy, Germany, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, England, Austria, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, Croatia, Montenegro, and Hungary (see diagram below).The following table shows the 20 main 15th century printing locations; as with all data in this section, exact figures are given, but should be treated as close estimates (the total editions recorded in ISTC at May 2013 is 28,395):Town or cityNo. of editions % of ISTC recorded editionsVenice3,54912.5Paris2,7649.7Rome1,9226.8Cologne1,5305.4Lyon1,3644.8Leipzig1,3374.7Augsburg1,2194.3Strasbourg1,1584.1Milan1,1013.9Nuremberg1,0513.7Florence8012.8Basel7862.8Deventer6132.2Bologna5592.0Antwerp4401.5Mainz4181.5Ulm3981.4Speyer3541.2Pavia3371.2Naples3231.1TOTAL22,02477.6Languages: The 18 languages that incunabula are printed in, in descending order, are: Latin, German, Italian, French, Dutch, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Catalan, Czech, Greek, Church Slavonic, Portuguese, Swedish, Breton, Danish, Frisian and Sardinian (see diagram below).Illustrations: Only about one edition in ten (i.e. just over 3,000) has any illustrations, woodcuts or metalcuts.Survival: The ‘commonest’ incunable is Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle (“Liber Chronicarum”) of 1493, with c 1,250 surviving copies (which is also the most heavily illustrated). Very many incunabula are unique, but on average about 18 copies survive of each. This makes the Gutenberg Bible, at 48 or 49 known copies, a relatively common (though extremely valuable) edition.Total number of volumes: Counting extant incunabula is complicated by the fact that most libraries consider a single volume of a multi-volume work as a separate item, as well as fragments or copies lacking more than half the total leaves. A complete incunable may consist of a slip, or up to ten volumes.Formats: In terms of format, the 29,000-odd editions comprise: 2,000 broadsides, 9,000 folios, 15,000 quartos, 3,000 octavos, 18 12mos, 230 16mos, 20 32mos, and 3 64mos.Caxton: ISTC at present cites 528 extant copies of books printed by Caxton, which together with 128 fragments makes 656 in total, though many are broadsides or very imperfect (incomplete).Dispersal: Apart from migration to mainly North American and Japanese universities, there has been remarkably little movement of incunabula in the last five centuries. None were printed in the Southern Hemisphere, and the latter appears to possess less than 2,000 copies – i.e. about 97.75% remain north of the equator. However many incunabula are sold at auction or through the rare book trade every year.^ BL.uk, consulted in 2007. The figures are subject to slight change as new copies are reported. Exact figures are given but should be treated as close estimates; they refer to extant editions.
The British Library’s Incunabula Short Title Catalogue now records over 29,000 titles, of which around 27,400 are incunabula editions (not all unique works). Studies of incunabula began in the 17th century. Michel Maittaire (1667–1747) and Georg Wolfgang Panzer (1729–1805) arranged printed material chronologically in annals format, and in the first half of the 19th century, Ludwig Hain published, Repertorium bibliographicum— a checklist of incunabula arranged alphabetically by author: “Hain numbers” are still a reference point. Hain was expanded in subsequent editions, by Walter A. Copinger and Dietrich Reichling, but it is being superseded by the authoritative modern listing, a German catalogue, the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, which has been under way since 1925 and is still being compiled at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. North American holdings were listed by Frederick R. Goff and a worldwide union catalogue is provided by the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue.Notable collections, with the approximate numbers of incunabula held, include:LibraryLocationNumber of copiesNumber of editionsRef.Bavarian State LibraryMunich20,0009,756British LibraryLondon12,50010,390Bibliothèque nationale de FranceParis12,0008,000Vatican LibraryVatican City8,6005,400 (more than)Austrian National LibraryVienna8,000Württembergische LandesbibliothekStuttgart7,076National Library of RussiaSaint Petersburg7,000Bodleian LibraryOxford6,7555,623Library of CongressWashington, DC5,600Huntington LibrarySan Marino, CA5,5375,228Russian State LibraryMoscow5,300Cambridge University LibraryCambridge4,650Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele IIINaples4,563John Rylands LibraryManchester4,500Danish Royal LibraryCopenhagen4,425Berlin State LibraryBerlin4,442Harvard UniversityCambridge, Massachusetts4,3893,627National Library of the Czech RepublicPrague4,200National Central Library (Florence)Florence4,000Jagiellonian LibraryKrakow3,671Yale University (Beinecke)New Haven, Connecticut3,525 (all collections)Herzog August LibraryWolfenbüttel3,4772,835Biblioteca Nacional de EspañaMadrid3,1592,298Biblioteca MarcianaVenice2,883Uppsala University LibraryUppsala2,500Biblioteca comunale dell’ArchiginnasioBologna2,500Bibliothèque MazarineParis2,370Bibliothèque municipaleColmar2,300University and State Library TirolInnsbruck21221889Bibliothèque nationale et universitaireStrasbourg2,098 (circa)Morgan LibraryNew York2,000 (more than)Newberry LibraryChicago2,000 (more than)National Central Library (Rome)Rome2,000National Library of the NetherlandsThe Hague2,000National Széchényi LibraryBudapest1,814University Library HeidelbergHeidelberg1,800Abbey library of Saint GallSt. Gallen1,650Turin National University LibraryTurin1,600Biblioteca Nacional de PortugalLisbon1,597Biblioteca Universitaria di PadovaPadua1,583Strahov Monastery LibraryPrague1,500 (more than)Bibliothèque Sainte-GenevièveParis1,450Walters Art MuseumBaltimore, Maryland1,250Bryn Mawr CollegeBryn Mawr, Pennsylvania1,214Bibliothèque municipaleLyon1,200Biblioteca ColombinaSeville1,194University of Illinois at Urbana–ChampaignUrbana, Illinois1,100 (more than)Bridwell LibraryDallas, Texas1,000 (more than)University of GlasgowGlasgow, UK1,000 (more than)National and University Library in ZagrebZagreb1,000(circa)Bibliothèque municipale de BesançonBesançon1,000 (circa)Huntington LibrarySan Marino, California827Free Library of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia800 (more than)Princeton University LibraryPrinceton, New Jersey750 (including the Scheide Library)Leiden University LibraryLeiden700Bibliothèque municipaleGrenoble654Bibliothèque municipaleAvignon624Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaireFribourg (Switzerland)617537Bibliothèque de la SorbonneParis614 (including the Victor Cousin collection)Bibliothèque municipaleCambrai600National Library of MedicineBethesda, Maryland580Humanist Library of SélestatSélestat, France550Médiathèque de la Vieille ÎleHaguenau, France541Bibliothèque municipaleRouen535Boston Public LibraryBoston525Vernadsky National Library of UkraineKyiv524Biblioteca del Seminario VescovilePadua483Univerzitná knižnica v BratislaveBratislava465Bibliothèque de GenèveGeneva464Bibliothèque municipaleMetz463Folger Shakespeare LibraryWashington, D.C.450 (circa)University of Michigan LibraryAnn Arbor, Michigan450 (circa)Fondazione Ugo Da ComoLonato del Garda, Italy450Brown University LibraryProvidence, Rhode Island450Bancroft LibraryBerkeley, California430University of ZaragozaZaragoza406The College of Physicians of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia400 (more than)Médiathèque de la ville et de la communauté urbaineStrasbourg394 (5,000 destroyed by fire in the 1870 Siege of Strasbourg)Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at AustinAustin, Texas380National Library of FinlandHelsinki375State Library of VictoriaMelbourne355University of Chicago LibraryChicago350 (more than)Bibliothèque municipaleBordeaux333Smithsonian Institution LibrariesWashington, DC320Vilnius University LibraryVilnius327Bibliothèque universitaire de MédecineMontpellier300Bibliothèque municipaleDouai300Bibliothèque municipaleAmiens300University of SevilleSeville298Bibliothèque municipalePoitiers289National Library of WalesAberystwyth250Bibliothèque du Grand SéminaireStrasbourg238State Library of New South WalesSydney236Library of the Kynžvart CastleLázně Kynžvart, Czech Republic230Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of AmericaNew York216Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of TorontoToronto200 (more than)Latimer Family Library at Saint Vincent CollegeLatrobe, Pennsylvania200 (circa)Stanford University LibrariesPalo Alto, California178Cardiff University LibraryCardiff, UK173Dartmouth College (Rauner Special Collections Library)Hanover, New Hampshire, USA170National Library of GreeceAthens, Greece149Médiathèque protestante de StrasbourgStrasbourg94Marsh’s LibraryDublin, Ireland80National Library of MaltaValletta60Odesa National Research LibraryOdessa52Lviv National Scientific LibraryLviv49Bibliothèque centrale / Grand’rueMulhouse18 (7 [library] + 10 [fonds Armand Weiss] + 1 [fonds Gérard])
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