The momentous accomplishment of Gutenberg’s first printing of the Bible was preceded by a number of necessarily experimental publications which developed the technique of printing with moveable type. This fragment, printed using the type of the 36-line Bible, is a relic of those trials. The text is part of a Latin grammar written by Donatus, who was the teacher of St. Jerome. His grammar was one of the most popular teaching aids during the medieval period, and Gutenberg seems to have found it advantageous to publish many editions of it, not only as practice but also as a source of much needed revenue. There are twenty-four known editions of the text in Gutenberg’s earliest type, all preceding the famous Bible. Described by earlier scholars as a “Pfister imprint,” dated ca. 1460, recent investigations indicate that this fragment belongs with Gutenberg’s work, probably dating not later than 1452.
Gift of George Arthur Plimpton, 1936
In 1457, Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer completed the printing of the Psalterium latinum, the first printed book to give both the names of the printers and the date of its printing. The following year they used the same type and ornamental initial letters to print the exceedingly rare Canon of the Mass, in this copy bound at the center of the Missal for the use of Cracow (printed in 1484). The missal is, in the reality of its physical production and in reflection of its liturgical use, two separate books. One of nine editions produced by Schöffer between 1483 and 1499, the missal is printed on paper, using font sizes that are smaller than those of the canon. They printed the 12-leaf canon of the mass – the section with the consecration prayers – on parchment for durability, and in a larger font size for legibility. It was sold as a separate unit so that the purchaser could remove the canon of whichever missal he was using and insert this much nicer version. The advertisement put out by Schöffer in 1470 still included this 1458 canon among the books he offered for sale; presumably one could purchase it as late as the 1484 date of the present missal. Although Columbia’s copy of the canon lacks three leaves, it is one of only three known copies to survive (together with a few isolated fragments). Of all the acquisitions that Henry Lewis Bullen made for the American Type Founders Company Library, he was most proud of this one.
Purchased with the American Type Founders Company Library & Museum, 1941
Alexander de Villa Dei (1175 – 1240 )
Printed on parchment, Folios 21-22
[Holland?: Laurens Janszoon Coster?, by 1463?]
Lower pastedown in the binding of UTS Ms. 14
The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Leander van Ess Collection
The 1499 Cologne Chronicle, while assigning the first printing from moveable type to Mainz, yet mentions that its forebears were “the Donatuses in Holland.” Fragments of elementary grammar texts composed by Donatus and Alexander de Villa Dei survive, and are tied through study of their fonts to what may be the remnants of Dutch prototypography. Almost all such fragments, however, are now removed from their context, rendering their place and date of origin yet more obscure. The startling exception is the present pastedown in a manuscript containing works by Albertus Magnus and Raymond Lull. Paul Needham has taken into consideration evidence of the manuscript scribe’s colophon: Conrad Itter signed his work four times during the course of 1463; Needham has identified the manuscript’s paper stock and the paper stock of the flyleaves used by the binder; and he has studied the blind-stamped tools used on the manuscript’s binding of calf over oaken boards.
The result is a verifiable proposal for the place and date of production of the manuscript: Cologne, 1463. By extension, we now have a terminus ante quem for the manuscript’s pastedown and thus for Dutch prototypography that is some four years earlier than paper evidence amassed to date, and some eight years earlier than ownership inscriptions have attested. The Burke Library’s fragment, because it survives in a context, advances knowledge of the means we have used for five hundred years to spread knowledge: printing itself. The manuscript and fragment came to Union Theological Seminary in 1838 with the library of Leander van Ess – at that time the largest and most comprehensive theological library, with the largest number of incunabula, in the New World.
Purchased with the Leander van Ess Collection, 1838
Iamblichus Chalcidensis (ca. 240 – 325)
De mysteriis Aegyptiorum, Chaldaeorum, Assyriorum
Venice: Aldi et Andreae soceri, 1516
RBML, Phoenix Collection
The 1516 edition of works of neo-platonic philosophers, including Iamblichus, Proclus, Porphyrius, Synesius and others, translated into Latin by Marsilio Ficino, is one of the significant books issued by the Aldine press. This copy is bound in an architectural style, ca. 1545, one of four known showing porticoes and the only one without perspective features, made by Claude de Picques for the noted French bibliophile Jean Grolier (1476-1565). The motif is derived from an illustration of the Corinthian temple in Diego da Sagredo’s Raison d'architecture antique (1539). Among the owners of the volume after Grolier were Count Hoym, ambassador to France from Saxony and bibliophile, the dealer-bibliophile A.A. Renouard who documented the Aldine publications, and the notorious thief Count Libri.
Bequest of Stephen Whitney Phoenix, 1881