Leeds University Library

Incunabula Collections Guide

Incunabula guide


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We have over 300 incunabula (books printed in Europe before 1501) in our collections.

The majority of these are in the Brotherton Collection, with another 40 items on deposit from Ripon Cathedral Library.

We have a wide variety of incunabula. Highlights include:

  • classical writings of Aristotle, Cicero, Horace, Ovid, Pliny, Plutarch, Virgil, Terence, Tacitus, Juvenal and Livy
  • medieval literature by Petrarch, Dante and Boccaccio
  • theological texts by Anselm, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Gregory, Jerome and Thomas Aquinas
  • works of medieval philosophy by Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Robert Holkot.

There is one unique incunabulum – the Epitome margaritae eloquentiae by Lorenzo Guglielmo Traversagni – which was printed in Westminster by William Caxton in 1480. This is the only known surviving copy.

In addition, we have dictionaries, encyclopaedias, histories, world chronicles, and instructional texts on astronomy and astrology, music, health and nutrition, geometry and arithmetic.

You can also find several notable illustrated works such as:

  • Hartmann Schedel's Liber chronicarum (Nuremberg, 1493), the first printed book to successfully combine text and image
  • the Schatzbehalter by Stephan Fridolin (Nuremberg, 1491), a devotional work with 96 full-page woodcuts that explain the text to those unable to read
  • Bernhard von Breydenbach's Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (Mainz, 1486), a medieval travel guide for pilgrims to the Holy Land complete with innovative fold-out panoramas of significant locations
  • Euclid's Elementa geometriae (Venice, 1482), the first edition of this famous mathematical textbook containing over 400 printed geometric diagrams.

Two of the Brotherton Collection incunabula are fragments. There is a single leaf from the 42-line Bible printed in Mainz by Gutenberg in about 1455. This was the first complete book printed with movable metal type.

The other fragment consists of two half leaves from the first dated bible printed by Fust and Schoeffer in Mainz in 1462.