Glasgow Incunabula Project and Exhibition update (19/5/15)

The first book that greets you on arrival at the Ingenious Impressions exhibition is our stunning copy of the Bible printed by Anton Koberger in 1483.  This was the first Bible to be printed in Nuremberg, and ours is a de-luxe copy; as well as being fully rubricated, its arresting woodcut illustrations are fully hand coloured. These woodcuts were first used by the Cologne printer Heinrich Quentell in two Low German Bibles of ca. 1478 and their artist is therefore known as the “Master of the Cologne Bibles”.

Woodcut from 1483 Koberger Bible

Woodcut from 1483 Koberger Bible

Binding of Nuremberg Bible

Binding of Nuremberg Bible

The text of Koberger’s Bible is in Middle High German. Carefully designed with clear typesetting, Koberger is said to have commissioned two new German types to print the work. Unusually, our copy survives in a contemporary German 16th-century blind-tooled pigskin binding, complete with protective metal clasps, centre-piece and corner-pieces. You can see these in the exhibited book thanks to a cunning use of mirrors.

We are particularly rich in early printed editions of the Bible thanks to the collecting habits of William Euing (1788-1874). A prosperous Glasgow insurance broker and bibliophile, he created a wonderful library of some 17,000 books. He bequeathed the bulk of this collection to the University in 1874. One of his main areas of interest lay in Bibles, psalters, books of prayers and hymns. His library consequently contains an astonishing 2000 different editions of the Bible, with versions in nearly 50 languages. Of these, over twenty are incunable editions.

William Euing

William Euing

However, here is a confession: it turns out that our 1483 Koberger Bible, as featured in the exhibition publication in the section relating to Euing, probably did not belong to Euing after all! The entry on the book was written up for the exhibition catalogue before our project researcher, Jack Baldwin, had investigated it thoroughly. He noticed that the volume actually bears a University acquisition date of 1914 – some forty years after Euing’s bequest. Despite best efforts, we have been unable to ascertain the source of this acquisition or locate any further documentation about it, but can only surmise that the book was rather arbitrarily ‘added’ to the Euing collection (much to the confusion of later generations) since it is a Bible.

However, this batch does include another edition of a Bible that we can confidently state did belong to William Euing. This, in fact, is the earliest printed Bible that we have in our collections; it was produced in Strassburg by Heinrich Eggestein in about 1468. Our copy includes handsome decorated initials throughout, as well as rubricated running headings, incipits, explicits and chapter numbering. There are, additionally, a number of insertions: bound in at the front are four leaves of manuscript text written in in a 15th-century hand (prologues and variant prologues to the Minor Prophets, the Book of Maccabees, the Gospels, and the Apocalypse); there are also smaller paper inserts containing a manuscript prologue to the Book of Wisdom, and a prologue to Hosea. From inscriptions and stamps, we know that this book belonged to the Observant Franciscans of Graz, and we know that Euing definitely owned it as it bears his shelfmark “VI-x-1” in pencil on the front pastedown.

Eggestein ca. 1468 Bible

Eggestein ca. 1468 Bible

Miniature of Jerome

Miniature of Jerome

There are, then, (quite evidently!) copies of 15th century Bibles in our collection that didn’t belong to Euing. This batch also includes several examples that are found in our Old Library collection, for instance. Of these, one is a Venetian edition produced by Franciscus Renner, de Heilbronn in 1480, complete with an historiated miniature depicting St Jerome; there are also two incomplete copies of a massive four set Bible printed by Anton Koberger in 1486-87 (which together comprise parts I and IV – part I also being illustrated by woodcuts); and, finally, part II only of another four part Bible, printed in 1497 by Koberger again.

As can be seen even from our frustratingly incomplete Bible sets above, Koberger was a dab hand at producing huge publications. He certainly operated his business on a grand scale, and is credited as being one of the most successful printers of the 15th century. At a time when most printing shops ran one or two presses, he is said to have used 24 presses a day, employing over 100 workmen. If you would like to explore more of his prolific output, check out the books we have bearing his imprint in our printer’s index. There are 15 listed so far, but I know that there are more to come (including two copies of probably his most famous work: the Nuremberg Chronicle …).

The latest ten records to be added to the project website are:



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  1. Glasgow Incunabula Project update (15/9/15) | University of Glasgow Library

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