Glasgow Incunabula Project update (18/12/15)

For the end of 2015 we have reached a landmark point in the Glasgow Incunabula Project: all 1060 books belonging to the University of Glasgow have now been fully catalogued and are available on the project website.

Annotations on printing in Higden (Hunterian Bv.2.31)

Annotations on printing in Higden (Hunterian Bv.2.31)

A 19th cent cover but what lies within? BC5-b.16

A 19th cent cover but what lies within? BC5-b.16

Our last batch of University books, as usual, contains many items of interest – a blockbook Bible, a smattering of Caxtons and some whopping tomes of the works of Vincent of Beauvais. However, the most unassuming book of them all is the most important and one worth shouting about. Found quite by chance, a slim Italian tract that gives remedies against the plague by Antonius Cermisonus turns out be a previously unknown 15th century edition – thus bringing our tally of unique incunabula to 12.

It seems astonishing that we could have a ‘new’ incunabulum lurking on our shelves, and here is how it was discovered. To be totally comprehensive in coverage, we will next be incorporating details of our incunabula fragments on the project website. Our researcher, Jack Baldwin, has therefore been examining many poorly catalogued books in the search for 15th century fragments. He knew that a particularly lucrative collection for early bindings would be the library of Sir William Hamilton (1788-1856), who was Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at Edinburgh University. Somewhat overlooked, this collection consists of about 8,000 volumes (mainly works on logic, philosophy, and classical texts), including  a number of incunabula. Jack systematically went along the Hamilton shelves looking for bindings of interest, and it was during this process that the Cermisonus caught his eye as an obvious example of early printing. Previously rather laconically cataloged (many decades ago!) as being without date or printer, the question was: how early was this book?

Opening page of BC5-b.16

Opening page of BC5-b.16

Details of the book were sent to Dr Falk Eisermann, Director of the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. After expert analysis, he came back with the exciting news that this was a Rome  edition produced in about 1478 by Johann Bulle. Not only is this the only known copy of this book in existence, but it is a reprint of a Naples edition printed by Jadocus Hohenstein in ca. 1474, of which only one single copy is recorded – at the Countway Library, Harvard University. So in terms of rarity, this book is pretty much off the scale. Incidentally, it is also the only example of a book produced by the press of Johann Bulle in our collection. So all in all, this shows the worth of detailed examination of books in projects such as this – you never know what buried treasure will be unearthed!

Nativity scene from Hunterian Ds.2.4

Nativity scene from Hunterian Ds.2.4

Returning to the other books in this batch, a charming nativity scene (with Mary finding time to read a book while Jesus slumbers in his manger) in our block book Bible reminds us of the festive season fast approaching. We have lots more to come in 2016, with the addition of details of incunabula from other libraries on Glasgow, but for the time being:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our blog readers and incunabula enthusiasts!

The last records to be indexed on the project website for the University of Glasgow incunabula are:



Categories: Special Collections

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3 replies

  1. Thanks or your comments John. There is certainly still much to be discovered in Hamilton’s Library. For a brief overview of the collection, see http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/specialcollections/collectionsa-z/hamiltoncollection/ However, an in depth study of the books in his library has yet to be done. There is a very interesting research opportunity here.

  2. Sir William Hamilton is that rare combination, both a forgotten and important thinker and scholar. It would be very interesting to know more about the Hamilton collection. Hamilton was perhaps the most erudite philosopher of his generation in Britain. He was the leading authority on the new German philosophy, and the first serious British interpreter of Kant. He attempted to reconcile Kant and Reid.

    Hamilton’s erudition intimidated opponents like JS Mill, who waited for Hamilton’s death before writing a thoroughly hostile and extremely bad book on Hamilton’s philosophy that nevertheless achieved its scurrilous intent; to trash Hamilton’s philosophical reputation. In a famous diapute Hamilton (through Ferrier) demonstrated that Coleridge was a philosophical plagiarist, who crudely relied on sheer British ignorance of German philosophy to make mischief (the attack on Coleridge probably lay behind the Coleridgean acolyte, Mill’s extreme antipathy to Hamilton).

    Hamilton was also the first British philosopher to explore the philospical theory of the ‘unconscious’ (but principally through Carus rather than Schopenhauer?). This important contribution has passed almost unnoticed in Britain over the next 150+ years, right up to today. Hamilton is, perhaps the last great product, the ‘swansong’ of the Scottish Enlightenment. He should not be forgotten.

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