Incunabula - specimens

A fantastic achievement of the eRecords project is the creation of detailed online records for the Library’s holdings of over 200 incunabula.

Books printed between 1455 and 1501 are called ‘incunabula’  - from the latin term ‘from the cradle’  - referring to the first fifty years of printingwhen the process was in it's infancy. The earliest incunabula resembled traditional manuscripts  -  two columns with spaces left at the beginning of each section to include decorative or illuminated initials. As the century progressed page design, typefaces and illustrations became gradually more varied and sophisticated in technique.The Gutenberg Bible of 1455 printed in Mainz, Germany, is considered the first incunabulum. From Mainz printing spread quickly across Europe. In 1470 there were fourteen printing houses. In 1480 there were more than a hundred.  

Amongst the Library's collection of incunabula is the Liber Chronicarum, also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, printed in 1493. It is considered one of the greatest illustrated books of the 15th century and includes over 1,800 woodcuts. The volume records the history of the world up to the year of publication.







Also held at the Library is a copy of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili - one of the most beautifully illustrated of the incunabula - produced in 1499 by Aldus Manutius, an influential printer in Venice.



To locate Incunabula in the catalogue you can do a simple subject keyword search using the terms ‘Incunabula’ and ‘Specimens’.  

Currently, there are over 26,000 known incunabula titles held in private collections and public institutions around the world. Incunabula held in other collections can be found at the British Library through the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue.




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