Definitions

incunabula

incunabula

[in-kyoo-nab-yuh-luh, ing-]
incunabula, plural of incunabulum [Late Lat.,=cradle (books); i.e., books of the cradle days of printing], books printed in the 15th cent. The known incunabula represent about 40,000 editions. The books include products of more than 1,000 presses, including such famous printers as Gutenberg, Jenson, Caxton, and Aldus Manutius and give evidence as to the development of typography in its formative period. These books were generally large quarto size, bound in calf over boards of wood, decorated with red initials (rubricated) and ornamental borders, and carrying a colophon but no title page. Notable European collections of incunabula are in Paris, London (British Museum), Oxford (Bodleian Library), Vienna, Rome, Milan, Brussels, and The Hague. Notable American collections are in Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress), New York City (Morgan Library and others), Providence (John Carter Brown Library and Annmary Brown Memorial), San Marino, Calif. (Henry E. Huntington Library), and in the libraries of Harvard and Yale Univ. For an introduction to incunabula and a guide to further study, see Margaret B. Stillwell, Incunabula and Americana 1450-1800 (2d ed. 1961).

Book printed before 1501. The date, though convenient, is arbitrary and unconnected to any development in the printing art. The term was probably first applied to early printing in general circa 1650. The total number of editions produced by 15th-century European presses is generally estimated at above 35,000, excluding ephemeral literature (e.g., single sheets, ballads, and devotional tracts) that is now lost or exists only in fragments in places such as binding linings.

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