Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Incunabula and Their Readers: Printing, Selling and Using Books in the Fifteenth Century

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Incunabula and Their Readers: Printing, Selling and Using Books in the Fifteenth Century

Article excerpt

Incunabula and their Readers: Printing, Selling and Using Books in the Fifteenth Century, ed. Kristian Jensen (London: British Library, 2003). x + 291 pp.; 14 coloured plates. ISBN 0-7123-4769-0. £35.00.

This volume is made up of a selection of the papers given at a conference in London in 2000, some in revised form, and one by the editor, the time for which he yielded to other speakers. The wealth of detail in it and several others would hardly have been appreciated on hearing but is usefully found here. The subjects of the papers (like incunabula themselves) are almost entirely continental, except for one by Lotte Hellinga on Wynkyn de Worde's types up to 1500, including those he took over and adapted from Caxton, which comes out of her work for the eagerly awaited England volume of the British Museum Catalogue of Fifteenth-Century Books (amazingly not to be published by the Library itself). One result is a redating of most of Wynkyn's incunable output, progressively discussed and tabulated. Furthermore there is here evidence of the employment for larger books of two or more compositors and type-cases, as in the C'hronicles, Malory, the Golden Legend, and the Canterbury Tales, in the last case extending other scholars' findings in favour of the use of a second exemplar, in manuscript.

The first paper, by Biaise Aguera y Areas, is the most technical, yet visually demonstrative, through digitized scanning of a unique papal bull in Gutenberg's earliest type, and computerized collation of the different impressions of the same letters, that there must have been more than a single mould for each distinct sort, instead of the identical matrices hit by harder metal punches in normal later type production. How and why this can have happened, perhaps with temporary matrices cut in softer materials, is hypothetical. …

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