Introduction to the study of incunabula (2009)
This course introduces the study of the earliest printed books through a critical discussion of the methods and techniques which are available to incunabulists. The course addresses the study of incunabula from the points of view of curators and of the antiquarian book-trade, and therefore also addresses how this relates to the interests or needs of collectors and of non-curatorial scholars whose work curators aim to support. Problems and methods addressed by incunabulists will consequently be presented in a historiographical context, but the course will have a practical bias and will be comprehensively illustrated.
Topics include: the invention of printing; the most important catalogues, their aims, strengths and weaknesses; the interpretation of colophons; books as physical objects providing evidence of how the printers of incunabula worked (vellum, paper studies; formats; gatherings; signatures; the identification of type and printing house practices); illustration, lay-out and texts; decoration; distribution; early provenance and later collectors. These issues will also be addressed through practical sessions based on the incunabula of Lyon City Library.
The course is taught in English but technical terminology will be explained and when necessary translated. Discussion and interventions in English, French, German or Italian will be encouraged
Short reading list
The catalogues, books and articles listed here have been chosen to give you a good impression of the range of resources available to incunabulists and also to give examples of the incunabulists’ methods at work. You will probably not find the time to read them all. But number 4 will provide an excellent general introduction, and it also presents a more modern approach to incunabula as part of early modern book production than other general introductions. Find some time to look at the catalogues mentioned and do read the passages indicated in number 7 and number 8, as well as the first and the last reviews listed in number 12. If you feel that you need to brush up on the production process of early printed books before the course, read number 21 or number 22. Or read number 20 or 23 if you already feel that you are well up with how the hand-press period book was produced. To get to know more about watermark research in the service of incunabula read either number 25 or number 26. Look at number 31 to get a good impression of how incunabulists distinguish type or read number 34 to see it working in practice. If you only have the time to read one thing on decoration, perhaps you could go for number 43.
The first bibliographic point of departure for the study of incunabula is Severin Corsten, Der Buchdruck im 15. Jahrhundert: Eine Bibliographie (Stuttgart, 1988-1993). Corsten’s bibliography organises the material by both subject and geographical location and is very easy to use. A separate volume provides an alphabetical index of authors.
General introductions to the study of incunabula
Konrad Haebler, Handbuch der Inkunabelkunde (Leipzig, 1925); reprint (Stuttgart, 1966); English translation, The Study of Incunabula (New York, 1933); reprint (New York, 1967).
Or Ferdinand Geldner, Inkunabelkunde: Eine Einführung in die Welt des frühesten Buchdrucks, Elemente des Buch- und Bibliothekswesen, 5 (Wiesbaden, 1978).
With a focus on France and less concerned with providing a full survey of all topics is Histoire de l édition française. Tome I. Le livre conquérant: Du moyen âge au milieu du XVIIe siècle, ed. by Henri-Jean Martin and Roger Chartier (Paris, 1982). For our purposes, see perhaps especially, the chapters by Jeanne-Marie Dureau, ‘Les Premiers ateliers français’, at pp. 163-175, and by Albert Labarre, ‘Les Incunables: la présentation du livre’, at pp. 195-216 (or in the second edition (Paris, 1989), pp. 228-255).
The collection of essays in Die Buchkultur im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert, 2 vols (Hamburg, 1995) provides, in German, introductions to some central themes, aimed at a wider readership than the systematic introductions listed above.
David McKitterick, Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450-1830 (Cambridge, 2003). McKitterick does not aim to provide an overview of methods of book production and is not exclusively concerned with incunabula. However, he discusses many problems related to incunabula in the context of the longer-term developments of book production and book use and he questions many of the normalising assumptions underlying both analytic bibliography and other approaches to incunable descriptions. For our purposes chapter 3 (pp. 53-96) and chapter 4 (pp. 97-138) are perhaps the most relevant.
You will not be expected to read these catalogues, but it is a good idea to take the time to look carefully at them. I also recommend that you read the introductory passages to which I refer under numbers 7 and 8.
GW, that is: Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, ed. by the Kommission für den Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, vols 1-7(Leipzig, 1925-40), ed. by the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, vols 8- (Stuttgart, Berlin, New York, 1972-). Read the pages in vol. 8, which describe the principles for the catalogue records; they appear in German in volume 8, fascicle 1, pp.*5-*10, and in volume 8, fascicle 2, in English, French, Italian and Russian. If your institution allows the downloading of the special software you can also consult http://www.gesamtkatalogderwiegendrucke.de/
BMC, that is: Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century now in the British Museum (Library), vols 1-10, vols 12-13. Parts 1-9 reproduced from the original edition (London, 1908-1962) annotated at the Museum, in progress (London, 1963-). I recommend reading one of the introductions to the presses, perhaps especially the introduction to volume 1, pp. ix-xxviii, written by A. W. Pollard, who is explicit about the methods used in identifying undated and unsigned incunabula, although some of his conclusions, now nearly 100 years old, sometimes need updating.
You should have a look at the Incunable Short Title Catalogue either in the form of the Illustrated ISTC on CD ROM or the on-line version. At the time of writing, the latter is officially only accessible on a test basis, so you have to ask for a pass word, but this will be sent to you automatically, http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/istc
Marie Pellechet, Catalogue général des incunables des bibliothèques publiques de France, 3 vols (Paris, 1897-1909). (Reprint of Louis Polain's working copy, with his numerous handwritten amendments and corrections). (Vol. 4-26, the manuscript notes of Polain, often referred to as Pellechet MS) (Nendeln, 1970).
CIBN : Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris), Catalogue des incunables, vol. 1, fasc. 1- (Paris, 1992-); vol. 2 (Paris, 1985). There is as yet no introduction to the CIBN, but spend some time familiarising yourself with it, looking perhaps both at fascicle 2,1, the first one to be published, and at 1,2, which is the most recent contribution.
It is useful to read some reviews of incunable catalogues. For ISTC see Paul Needham, ‘Counting Incunables: The IISTC CD-Rom’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 61 (2000), 459-529, who begins with a good introduction to earlier incunable catalogues. In The Library, 6th series, 13 (1991) Lotte Hellinga, Martin Davies and John Goldfinch reviewed inter alia recent fascicles of GW, CIBN, and BSB-Ink: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek: Inkunabelkatalog, 1- (Wiesbaden, 1988- ) as well as Vera Sack, Die Inkunabeln der Universitätsbibliothek und anderer öffentlicher Sammlungen in Freiburg im Breisgau und Umgebung (Wiesbaden, 1985) and Denise Hillard, Catalogues régionaux des incunables des bibliothèques publiques de France, vol. 6, Bibliothèque Mazarine (Paris, 1989). Also Kristian Jensen, ‘Incunabula at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek’, Notes and Queries (March 2000), 1-4.
On Gutenberg and the invention of printing
Guy Bechtel, Gutenberg et l’invention de l’imprimerie: Une enquête (Paris, 1992). This is a detailed critical assessment of the present state of knowledge on Gutenberg, always reverting to the original documentation to assess claims, approaching the topic with clarity and judgement in contrast to much other writing on Gutenberg.
Very short but to the point is Martin Davies, The Gutenberg Bible (London, 1996).
Janet Ing, Johann Gutenberg and His Bible (New York, 1988), also a good introduction.
If you prefer to read on the web, Kristian Jensen presents the current state of knowledge, aimed at a non-specialist audience on the web resource which also contains the full facsimile of the British Library’s two copies of the Gutenberg Bible http://www.bl.uk/treasures/gutenberg/homepage.html
The web pages of Göttingen University Library http://www.gutenbergdigital.de, associated with their digital facsimile, are especially important for the reproduction, transcription and translations of the legal document drawn up during Fust’s and Gutenberg’s legal dispute.
Blaise Agüera y Arcas, ‘Temporary Matrices and Elemental Punches in Gutenberg’s DK type’, in Incunabula and Their Readers: Printing, Selling and Using Books in the Fifteenth Century, edited by Kristian Jensen (London: The British Library, 2003), pp. 1-12. This article is a contribution to the developing tendency to see the invention of printing as a more extended process of innovation and refinement of processes. It presents the research of Paul Needham and Blaise Agüera y Arcas on the way in which Gutenberg’s type may have been made.
Lotte Hellinga, ‘Nicolas Jenson et les débuts de l’imprimerie â Mayence’ Revue française d’histoire du livre, 118-121 (2003), 25-53 discusses the evidence for the involvement of Jenson, of the French mint, in the earliest printing and suggest his involvement in the development of type production.
Lotte Hellinga, ‘Press and Text in the First Decades of Printing’, in Libri tipografi biblioteche: Ricerche storiche dedicate a Luigi Balsamo, Biblioteca di bibliografia italiana, 148 (Florence, 1997), pp.1-23 is an excellent example of how the physical examination of books can be used to provide evidence of the production process, in this case about the development of the printing press itself. It also provides a good example of the work of analytical bibliography applied to very early imprints.
On the production process:
The clearest introduction to the way in which books were produced before the nineteenth century is Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (Oxford, 1972) and later editions. Much of the book is devoted to more modern production methods, but pages 9-145 are perhaps the best starting point for understanding how books were produced in the hand-press period, although Gaskell does not especially discuss incunabula.
If you prefer reading in French, a very good account of sixteenth-century book production is Jeanne Veyrin-Forrer, ‘Fabriquer un livre au XVIe siécle’, in Histoire de l édition française. Tome I. Le livre conquérant: Du moyen âge au milieu du XVIIe siècle, ed. by Henri-Jean Martin and Roger Chartier (Paris, 1982), pp. 279-301 (or in the second edition (Paris, 1989), pp. 336-364), and reprinted in her La Lettre et le texte: Trente années de recherches sur l’histoire du livre (Paris, 1987).
Jeanne Veyrin-Forrer, ‘Les Premiers ateliers typographiques parisiens: Quelques aspects techniques’, in Villes d’imprimerie et moulins à papier du XIVe au XVIe siècle: Aspects économiques et sociaux (Brussels, 1976), pp. 317-355, also in her La Lettre et le texte: Trente années de recherches sur l’histoire du livre (Paris, 1987), pp. 213-36.
The methods used by incunabulists
A more structured discussion of the methods used in identifying incunabula than the one found in volume I of BMC is Peter Amelung, ‘Methoden zur Bestimmung und Datierung unfirmierter Inkunablen’, in Buch und Text im 15. Jahrhundert:Arbeitsgespräch in der Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel ed. by Lotte Hellinga and Helmar Härtel, Wolfenbütteler Abhandlungen zur Renaissanceforschung, 2 (Hamburg, 1978), pp. 89-128.
A very good example of how paper evidence can be used for dating books from a single workshop is Gerard van Thienen, ‘Die Datierung der Werke des "Druckers mit dem Monogramm" (Utrecth 1479-1480) nach dem Papierverbrauch’, in Johannes Gutenberg - regionale Aspekte des frühen Buchdrucks. Vorträge der internationalen Konferenz zum 550. Jubiläum der Buchdruckerkunst am 26. und 27. Juni 1990 in Berlin, ed. by Holger Nickel and Lothar Gill, Beiträge aus der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz, 1 (Berlin, 1993), pp. 193-202.
Paul Needham, ‘The Paper Supply of the Gutenberg Bible’, The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 79 (1985), 303–74 updates earlier work on the paper used in the Gutenberg Bible and is a good example of how paper evidence can be used for understanding details of the production processes of a single edition.
Allan Stevenson, The Problem of the Missale speciale (London, 1967) remains a classic example of the use of paper evidence external to the edition in question for dating purposes.
Although their reproductions of watermarks are too imprecise for the use in much modern paper research, the two great collections of reproductions of watermarks are essential, if only because they provide a point of reference. Charles Moïse Briquet, Les Filigranes: Dictionnaire historique des marques du papier jusqu'en 1660: Facsimile with Supplementary Material, ed. by A. Stevenson, 4 vols (Amsterdam, 1968).
Die Wasserzeichenkartei Piccard im Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart: Findbuch, ed. by Gerhard Piccard, 25 vols (Stuttgart, 1961-1996). This is now also available on http://pan.bsz-bw.de/piccard/start.php?id=piccard&archiv=hstas
For a tool created for the web environment see the impressive resource on Netherlandish watermarks by Gerard van Thienen http://watermark.kb.nl/
The main tools for identification of type are
BMC, that is: Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century now in the British Museum (Library), vols 1-10, vols 12-13. Parts 1-9 reproduced from the original edition (London, 1908-1962) annotated at the Museum, in progress (London, 1963-2004). For type identification one uses the introductions to the presses, the surveys of the types preceding the catalogue entries for each printer, and the associated reproductions of specimens of the type faces. See for example the introduction to the press of Anton Johann Amerbach, BMC III, p. xxxv, the list of types used by, pp. 742-45, and the type facsimiles on plates LXXI and LXXII.
The largest series of type specimen facsimiles is Veröffentlichungen der Gesellschaft für Typenkunde des XV. Jahrhunderts, plates 1-2460 (Leipzig, 1907-39; repr. Osnabrück, 1966); Typenregister zu Tafel 1-2460, ed. by Rudolf Juchhoff and E. von Kathen (Osnabrück, 1966).
Konrad Haebler, Typenrepertorium der Wiegendrucke (Halle an der Saale, 1905; reprint Nendeln/Liechtenstein and Wiesbaden, 1968).
An excellent example of how type identification is used in conjunction with other evidence is Ursula Baurmeister, ‘Was Jacques le Forestier the Printer of the Horae ad usum Sarum of 1495’, The British Library Journal, 9 (1983), 66-75.
The most important contribution to an understanding of the lay-out of early printed books is Henri-Jean Martin and Jean-Marc Chatelain, La Naissance du livre moderne (XIVe-XVIIe siècles): mise en page et mise en texte du livre français (Paris, 2000). Despite its declared French scope it has much to say about lay-out in Germany and Italy as well.
Studies devoted to the lay-out of special genres are few, but a good example is Gerhardt Powitz, ‘Text und Kommentar im Buch des 15. Jahrhunderts’, in Buch und Text im 15. Jahrhundert: Arbeitsgespräch in der Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, ed. by Lotte Hellinga and Helmar Härtel, Wolfenbütteler Abhandlungen zur Renaissanceforschung, 2 (Hamburg, 1978), pp. 35-45.
A detailed study of lay-out of the glossed Bible is J. P. Gumpert, ‘The Lay-out of the Bible gloss in Manuscript and Early Print’, in The Bible as Book: The First Printed Editions, ed. by Paul Saenger and Kimberly van Kampen (London, 1999), pp. 7-14.
The particularly complex relation in French Books of Hours between the lay-out of text and illustrations is discussed by Mary Beth Winn, ‘Illustrations in Parisian Books of Hours: Borders and Repertoires’, in Incunabula and Their Readers: Printing, Selling and Using Books in the Fifteenth Century, edited by Kristian Jensen (London, 2003), pp. 31-52.
For an overview of illustrations in the fifteenth century see Lotte Hellinga, ‘Illustration of Fifteenth-Century Books: A Bird’s Eye View of Changes and Techniques’, Bulletin du Bibiliophile (1991), 43-61.
The best introduction to techniques for making woodcuts remains Arthur M. Hind, An Introduction to a History of Woodcut with a Detailed Survey of Work Done in the Fifteenth Century, 2 vols (London, 1935).
A. Claudin, Historie de l’imprimerie en France au XVe et au XVIe siècle, 4 vols (Paris, 1900-1914) is essential for the study of printing in France, but perhaps especially for his work on illustrations. Several other catalogues of illustrations will be introduced during the course.
The decoration of incunabula is still not examined to the same extent as decoration of a similar nature in manuscript books, perhaps because of the amount of surviving evidence. Most work has been done on Italian decoration, closely integrated with the study of manuscripts, as evidenced in The Painted Page: Italian Renaissance Book Illumination 1450-1550, an exhibition catalogue ed. by Jonathan J. G. Alexander (Munich, 1994), where the main themes are set out in the contribution of Lilian Armstrong, ‘The Hand-Illumination of Printed Books in Italy 1465-1515’, pp. 35-47 and in the section ‘The Hand-Illuminated Printed Book’, pp. 163-208 (catalogue nos. 78-104, by Lilian Armstrong with some entries by Giordana Mariani Canova).
Lilian Armstrong, ‘Nicolaus Jenson’s Breviarium Romanum, Venice 1478, in Incunabula: Studies in Fifteenth-Century Printed Books Presented to Lotte Hellinga, ed. by Martin Davies (London, 1999), pp. 421-67 is a good study of the relation between decorators and printers.
For Germany, decoration in the Gutenberg Bible and works printed in the earliest Mainz workshops have been studied especially by Eberhard König and by Lotte Hellinga. Lotte Hellinga, ‘Peter Schoeffer and the Book Trade in Mainz: Evidence for the Organisation’, in Bookbindings and Other Bibliophily: Essays in Honour of Anthony Hobson, ed. by Dennis Rhodes (Verona, 1994), pp. 131-84, uses illumination as evidence for book trade history.
Among the many contributions by Eberhard König to early Mainz decoration see perhaps especially König, ‘New Perspectives on the History of Mainz Printing: A Fresh Look at Illuminated Imprints’, in Printing the Written Word: The Social History of Books circa 1450-1520, ed. by Sandra Hindman (Ithaca, NY, 1991), pp. 143-173.
Hélène Toubert, ‘Formes et fonctions de l’enluminure’, in Histoire de l édition française. Tome I. Le livre conquérant: Du moyen âge au milieu du XVIIe siècle, ed. by Henri-Jean Martin and Roger Chartier (Paris, 1982), pp. 87-129 or in the second edition (Paris, 1989), pp. 109-146. This is not specifically about illuminations in printed books, but is useful for understanding the function of illuminations as part of the presentation of the text.
Mary Beth Winn, Anthoine Vérard, Parisian publisher, 1485-1512: Prologues, Poems, and Presentations (Geneva, 1997), discusses painted woodcuts as well as illuminations in editions published for Vérard.
Bindings from all periods can be found on incunabula. Here a few of the most important tools are listed for the identification of bindings roughly from the period of production. Blind stamped bindings have been studied using a methodology which is similar to that used for type identification. For fifteenth-century Germany, notably Ernst Kyriss, Verzierte gotische Einbände im alten deutschen Sprachgebiet (Stuttgart, 1951).
Ilse Schunke, Die Schwenke-Sammlung gotischer Stempel- und Einbanddurchreibungen nach Motiven geordnet und nach Werkstätten bestimmt und beschrieben, vol. I, Beiträge zur Inkunabelkunde, 3rd ser., 7 (Berlin, 1979). And Ilse Schunke and Konrad von Rabenau, Die Schwenke-Sammlung gotischer Stempel- und Einbanddurchreibungen nach Motiven geordnet und nach Werkstätten bestimmt und beschrieben, vol. II, Beiträge zur Inkunabelkunde, 3rd ser., 10 (Berlin, 1996). See also the website http://hist-einband.de/
For France, less work has been done to create an overview of the tools used for stamping bindings in the fifteenth century, but an excellent example is Denise Gid, Catalogue des reliures françaises estampées à froid, XVe – XVIe siècle de la Bibliothèque mazarine (Paris, 1984).
Tammaro De Marinis, La Legatura artistica in Italia nei secoli XV et XVI, 3 vols (Florence, 1960) is the only large-scale work on Italian bindings and as the title indicates focuses on the more outstanding examples of binding.
Anthony Hobson, ‘Bookbinding in Padua in the Fifteenth Century’, in Incunabula: Studies in Fifteenth-Century Printed Books Presented to Lotte Hellinga, edited by Martin Davies (London, 1999), pp. 389-420 uses the same detailed approach to Italian bindings as the one used for blind stamped bindings of Northern Europe.
David Pearson, Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook (London, 1994) is the only systematic account of the tools available for provenance research. Its focus is British, but its use is wider as a guide to the range of provenance information and to the type of reference works which can be used for its interpretation.
Ursula Baurmeister, ‘The Recording of Marks of Provenance in the Bibliothèque nationale de France and Other French Libraries’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 91 (1997), 525-38 provides a view from one of the authors of one of the best late-twentieth-century catalogues.
Anthony Hobson, ‘A German Student in Italy: His Books and Bindings’, in Mélanges d'histoire de la reliure offerts à Georges Colin, ed. by Claude Sorgeloos (Brussels, 1998), pp. 87-99, is an example of the use of binding studies in close association with provenance studies.
Most provenance studies focus on individual owners and their collections. Kristian Jensen, ‘Printing the Bible in the Fifteenth Century: Devotion, Philology and Commerce’, in Incunabula and Their Readers: Printing, Selling and Using Books in the Fifteenth Century, edited by Kristian Jensen (London, 2003), pp. 115-138, is an example of how provenance information can be used in an examination of how a certain text was used and distributed.
The history of the reception of texts is at the centre of Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters: Verfasserlexikon, 2nd revised edition by Kurt Ruh and Gundolf Keil (and others), vol. 1- (Berlin, New York, 1978-) and many of the articles cover the textual tradition in incunabula. Out of the same tradition comes works on texts or groups of texts which have made heavy use of provenance information, for instance Jürgen Geiß, Zentern der Petrarca-Rezeption in Deutschland (um 1470-1525): Rezeptionsgeschichtliche Studien und Katalog der lateinischen Drucküberlieferung (Wiesbaden, 2002).
The earliest owners are not the only ones to be of importance for provenance studies. Dominique Coq, ‘Le Parangon du bibliophile français: le duc de la Vallière et sa collection’, Histoire des bibliothèques françaises, 4 vols. (Paris, 1988-92), vol. II, pp. 317-31 is an example of a study of a later, eighteenth-century, collector who had an important number of incunabula in his posssession.
Kristian Jensen, ‘Problems of Provenance: Incunabula in the Bodleian Library’s Benefactors’ Register 1600-1602’, in Incunabula: Studies in Fifteenth-Century Printed Books Presented to Lotte Hellinga, edited by Martin Davies (London, 1999), pp. 559-602 exemplifies the use of provenance studies within an institutional collection.