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Book Collections in Special Collections & University Archives

This guide featires the Rare Books collection and Oregon Collection held by the University of Oregon Libraries Special Collections & University Archives

Incunabula

An incunable (plural incunabula), is a book, pamphlet, or broadside printed in Europe between the years 1440-1501. There are two types of incunabula in printing: the block book, printed from a single carved or sculpted wooden block for each page, employing the same process as the woodcut in art (these may be called xylographic); and the typographic book, made with individual pieces of cast-metal movable type on a printing press. Many scholars reserve the term incunabula for the latter kind only.

The most famous incunabula include two from Mainz, the Gutenberg Bible of 1455 and the Peregrinatio in terram sanctam of 1486, printed and illustrated by Erhard Reuwich; the Nuremberg Chronicle written by Hartmann Schedel and printed by Anton Koberger in 1493; and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili printed by Aldus Manutius with important illustrations by an unknown artist.

Other printers of incunabula were Günther Zainer of Augsburg, Johannes Mentelin and Heinrich Eggestein of Strasbourg, Heinrich Gran of Haguenau and William Caxton of Bruges and London. The first incunable to have woodcut illustrations was Ulrich Boner's Der Edelstein, printed by Albrecht Pfister in Bamberg in 1461.

Many incunabula are undated, needing complex bibliographical analysis to place them correctly. The post-incunabula period marks a time of development during which the printed book evolved fully as a mature artefact with a standard format. After circa 1540 books tended to conform to a template that included the author, title-page, date, seller, and place of printing. This makes it much easier to identify any particular edition.

Special Collections holds approximately 75 incunabula (click this link).

These items were printed in the following locations:

France: Paris

Germany: Augsburg, Cologne, Freiberg, Lubeck, Mainz, Nuremberg, Strassburg, Ulm

Italy: Bologna, Brescia, Florence, Milan, Parma, Rome, Treviso, Venice

Switzerland: Basel

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