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Incunabula: Books from the Cradle of Printing

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gutenburgBoston Public Library’s Collections of Distinction feature historical marvels from around the world, including thousands of items that date back to as early as the 10th century. Among the collections are incuanbula, or “incunables,” which are books printed from the time that Johann Gutenberg perfected moveable types, sometime between 1440–1445 until January 1, 1501. The term comes from the Latin for “things from the cradle,” i.e., the cradle of printing. The incunables have stood the test of time – books of this age were printed on 100% rag paper and look as crisp and white today as the day they were printed, even though they are more than 500 years old.

The two earliest titles in the library’s collection of incunabula are attributed to Johann Gutenberg – a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, printed between 1454-1455, and Catholicon, printed in 1460. The latter is one of only 12 copies located in the United States and the only one printed on vellum (calfskin).

Additional treasures in the collection:

  • Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), the first encyclopedic history of the world
  • Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499) printed by Aldus Manutius
  • Divina Commedia (1481) by Dante Alighieri with etchings by Sandro Botticelli
  • early editions of The Golden Legend and Canterbury Tales
  • the famous Columbus letter (1493) written to Isabella and Ferdinand documenting Columbus’ discoveries of the New World
  • a unique copy of an early Spanish Passion printed in Burgos in 1493
  • writings of Eusebius, Boccaccio, Martialis, and Thomas Aquinas

Visit the Collections of Distinction page to learn more.