Incunabula – An Introduction – Books Before 1501Incunabulum (Latin singular), Incunabula (Latin plural), Incunable (Anglicized)

History of the term

Incunabula are literary items printed (as opposed to handwritten) before 1501. The term comes from the Latin “cunae” for “cradle” or “infancy.” The term seems to have been used by Bernard Von Mallinckrodt to describe the earliest printed books made by moveable type. Mallinckrodt was the dean of Munster Cathedral. He used the term incunabula in his 1639 work “De Ortu Ac Progresu Artis Typographicae Dissertatio Historica” when he wrote of Gutenberg’s work in printing. Mallinckrodt listed the year 1500 as “prima typographicae incunabula.” The use of the term was reinforced in 1688 when Cornelius A Beughem (or Cornelius Van Beughem) issued his “Incunabula Typographiae” which was a catalogue containing the titles of approximately 3000 incunabula. Johann Saubert had also used the year 1500 as the cut-off for the earliest books in his book “Hisoria Bibliothecae Noribergensis.” In the appendix to the volume, he included a list of such books through the year 1500.

Gutenberg’s Bible

Johannes Gutenberg is credited with producing the first book printed with movable type. This book was the Mainz Bible (commonly called the Gutenberg Bible or 42 line Bible) which was produced 1450-1455 in Mainz, Germany. Printing then expanded to Italy and quickly spread throughout the rest of Europe.

Printers in the McCune Incunabula Collection

  • Adolf Rusch. Strassburg. ca 1470
  • Sweynheym and Pannartz. Rome. 1471
  • Wendelin de Spira. Venice. 1471
  • C. Fyner. Esslingen. 1474
  • Nicolas Jenson. Venice. 1476
  • Bernardum de Colonia. Treviso. 1478
  • Antonio di Bartolomeo Miscomini. Florence. 1482
  • Antone Koberger. Nuremberg. 1487
  • J. Pruss. Strassburg. 1491
  • Johann (Reinhard) Gruninger. Strassburg. 1498
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