Early printing / incunabula


German Bible.  Printed by Anton Sorg, Augsburg, 20th June 1477.

(Goff B630; HC 3135; Pell 374)

An incunable Bible printed in southern Germany in 1477.  The text is a version of the translation from the Latin Vulgate into High German used by Mentel for the earliest printed German Bible in 1466.  Mentel in his turn used a translation which probably originated in Nuremberg in the beginning of the fourteenth century.  The language of his text was, therefore, already slightly archaic.  Eleven Bibles in vernacular German were printed in the fifteenth century, each showing slight variations in the text to compensate for local dialect usage and to minimise the archaisms, before Martin Luther’s definitive translation appeared in 1522.

This is known as the 7th German Bible.  It contains numerous woodcuts by an unknown artist, tentatively identified as Jodocus Pflanzmann, who certainly illustrated the 3rd German Bible, printed in Augsburg in c.1475.

The Bible’s original owner is not known but by the seventeenth century it had come into the possession of Johann Joseph, Graf von Wildenstein, (b. 1662 or 1668, died 1747). At this time the book was rebound and the Count’s crest was impressed onto the upper and lower boards.  There are seventeenth century library shelf marks inside the upper board and two dates beside the colophon at the back of the book: 1614 and 1695 – when somebody pencilled in the date of publication and calculated that the book was then 218 years old. It is impossible to reconstruct the book’s later history until it was offered for sale in London in 1859, priced  £10 10/-.  It was then given to St. Peter’s College (Radley) by Harford I. Jones-Brydges on April 29th 1861.

Only thirty perfect copies of this book are known to exist in collections around the world, four of them in Britain.  This is the thirty-first and fifth.

Nuremberg Chronicle (Goff S307; HC 14508)

The Nuremberg Chronicle, published in 1493, was the most ambitious printing project of the fifteenth century. It is a chronicle history of the known world from the beginning until that time. Its principal editor was Hartmann Schedel, a Nuremberg city doctor. There is strong evidence that many of the illustrations are by Dürer. The Liber Chronicarum consists of over 600 pages, and many more woodcut illustrations, each page about the size of a modern broadsheet.

Over 500 complete copies are known to exist in collections throughout the world. However, this single sheet demonstrates the contemporary fate of many illustrated books: it was bought via eBay for £50 in 2004 from a vendor who had several different pages of this one book to sell.