15th century printed books now on display

Decorated page with coat of arms of Francois Bonivard

Decorated page with coat of arms of Francois Bonivard

The latest display in the Special Collections foyer features three of our incunabula – that is, those books that were printed before 1501.  A project to catalogue in detail our impressive collection of some 1,000 of these 15th century books is currently underway.

The art of printing was perfected by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany in around 1450, and his new technology quickly spread around Europe. The revolutionary technique of printing by moveable type meant that multiple copies could be produced with speed and accuracy for the first time. The subsequent mass production and diffusion of texts undoubtedly changed the intellectual face of late medieval Europe.

The earliest of printed books are fascinating objects. They are all unique in some way. Closely modelled on manuscripts, many of them are decorated and ‘finished’ by hand. Others bear the traces of over five hundred years of use by generations of readers, with marginal annotations, ownership inscriptions and personalised bindings. Many are extremely rare and only survive in a handful of copies.

Woodcut and page of text from The myracles of oure blessyd Lady

The only surviving copy of Wynkyn de Worde's ca. 1496 edition of The myracles of oure blessyd Lady

The books currently on exhibition in Special Collections (level 12 of the library) are:

  • the only copy known to survive of  The myracles of oure blessyd Lady, printed in England by Wynkyn de Worde in about 1496 (Sp Coll Hunterian Bv.3.4)
  • a Milanese book decorated with numerous illuminated initials (Sp Coll Hunterian Ds.2.7)
  • a copy of Valerius Maximus: Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri IX that was owned in the 16th Century by François Bonivard (1493-1570), the Swiss patriot and historian, with his coat of arms painted in on the lower margin of the opening page (Sp Coll Hunterian Bf.2.3)

Come and see the display any time that the Special Collections Department is open.

Categories: Special Collections

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