Incunabula: Studies in Fifteenth‐century Printed Books Presented to Lotte Hellinga

W. Malcolm Watson (formerly Head, Department of Information and Library Management, University of Northumbria at Newcastle upon Tyne)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Malcolm Watson, W. (2000), "Incunabula: Studies in Fifteenth‐century Printed Books Presented to Lotte Hellinga", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 4, pp. 197-206.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The history of the book and bibliography generally are further developed and enhanced by this volume in the British Library’s studies of fifteenth century books. Like its predecessors it reaches the high academic level to which users of the Studies in the History of the Book have become accustomed.

The name Lotte Hellinga is synonymous with the word incunabula in the minds of many bibliographers and her contributions to the study of the subject are clearly indicated by the list of 147 published items and six forthcoming, all of which have resulted from her work in a variety of roles relevant to the study of the book. The contributions made to this publication in honour of Dr Hellinga clearly reflect the high esteem in which she is held by scholars. There are 27 of them, from many countries concerned with one or other of the many aspects of the study and management of incunabula. To describe the work as a treasure trove of new knowledge on the subject may sound trite; however, analytical, historical, textual bibliographers, literary historians, antiquarian booksellers and cultural historians will all find something of significance in this work.

The range of subjects covered and the new knowledge unfolded are very wide and cover early Italian printing and bookbinding with indications of work to be done on decoration, bindings and provenance in surviving copies of fifteenth‐century books which are widely scattered; and new knowledge on fifteenth‐century German printing with a valuable contribution on the Gutenberg Bible for incunabulists and booktrade historians which illustrates pages from 55 booksellers/auction catalogues in which the 42‐Line Bible has been described between 1729 and 1988 – though only approximately half of the known copies have appeared in the trade. Additional information on early typographical practice in different printing houses, handling of copy in fifteenth‐century printing houses, use of paper evidence in dating fifteenth century material from the Netherlands, the sale of continental books in fifteenth‐century Oxford, and new light on fifteenth‐century Netherlands bookbinding is provided. There are also contributions on Spanish incunabula and on the acquisition of 400 incunabula for the Harvard College Library.

In this work Dr Hellinga’s interest in bindings is catered for and attention is paid to copy specific study of fifteenth‐century printed books. False dates are examined in French printing and provide new information on the work of Jean du Pré. English printing is not neglected – here it is made clear that little has been done on decorated Caxtons, and consequently the contribution on the topic begins to fill a gap in early English printing knowledge. Relationships between manuscript and printed book are considered and vice versa, again extending existing knowledge on this topic.

As will be recognised from the foregoing comments, this publication is important in the field of study which it covers, bringing, as it does, the most up‐to‐date research on a remarkably wide range of topics into one well produced volume. Hopefully this book will find its place in appropriate academic and special libraries where it is likely to be consulted not only by students of early printing but also by experts in relevant fields of study. Considering the nature of the publication and its quality of production it is reasonably priced at £50.

Related articles