New incunabula from the Bodleian

Now that the Bodleian's Barocci collection of Greek manuscripts has been almost completely digitized for the project, we are moving on to incunabula. This transition has involved some changes to the digitization process: while all of our Greek manuscripts were photographed using our Grazer conservation cradle, we have been photographing many of our incunabula on the smaller Atiz cradles (see our post on imaging techniques for more about these machines). This is primarily due to time constraints.


Because it is our policy not to photograph decorated or fragile items on the Atiz (i.e., no gilding or painting, and no parchment or ink-burned pages), we have also had to make some adjustments to our incunabula selection process. In recent months, we have been pulling in a number of smaller books to replace the large decorated books--primarily Bibles--that we may not have time to scan. This has been somewhat laborious, but it has also been exciting. Decorated Bibles may be beautiful, but the books we have selected for the Atiz represent a wider and arguably more interesting cross-section of 15th-century printing, encompassing not merely the ornamental or ceremonial but the functional and everyday. There will also be more of an emphasis on English incunables from the Douce collection, including a "hystorye of Reinard the foxe" translated by William Caxton himself.


(A technical note: Our online list of incunabula to be digitized has served as a starting point for this selection process. Some of the items on the list will not be digitized, and many additional items will be digitized. We plan to create a more accurate list moving forward, but in the meantime, new items will be added to the top of the list as they are completed.)


Today, we have five new incunabula online: two from the original list, and three additions. Four of these books were scanned on the Grazer cradle, and one was scanned on the Atiz. Looking at these books, the contrast between Grazer books and Atiz books is obvious. On the Grazer side, we have a Bible (Auct. M 1.12) and a two-volume missal (Auct. 6Q 3.24 and 3.25), both very large, with gilt and painted initials throughout. The missal, printed in Paris in 1481, is particularly beautiful, and offers an excellent example of early printing on vellum. On the Atiz side, we have a blackletter Synonyma and Aequivoca, printed in London in the 1490s and bound together with four post-1500 Latin texts.


It is fairly common for multiple early printed books to be bound together, forming what is called a sammelband. For this project, we have decided to digitize the entirety of each sammelband, even if some of the books contained in it do not technically count as incunabula. In some cases, a hundred years or more separates the components of the sammelband; in the case of Auct. 2Q 5.9, however, it is a matter of only a few decades.


The four additional books, school texts by John Stanbridge, were all printed in the first half of the 16th century. Digitizing the whole volume makes sense from an archival perspective, but in this case it has also provided us with a very interesting artefact of early modern education. The Vocabula (beginning here) is a Latin-to-English dictionary, organized by subject and offering a priceless insight into 16th-century medicine, diet, and clothing. (The list of ailments includes "the wylde fere", and in the section on animals there is a disconcertingly long list of worms.) The Vulgaria offers a similar list, followed by what may be--for the layman, at least--the real gem of this volume: 21 pages of common English phrases translated into Latin. These vary widely in subject and tenor ("It is a great helpe for scolers to spek latyn" is followed immediately by "I am sure thou louest me not"), and paint a vivid picture of 16th-century childhood.​