Category: Masterclass

Discovering Provenance in Book History: two accounts of David Pearson’s masterclass

By , 6 May 2013 12:56 pm

John Hall

About twenty of us, with a very varied range of expertise, were gathered to hear David Pearson speak about provenance evidence, especially, but not exclusively, that found in incunabula.
David began with an illustrated talk, in which he explained the importance of a knowledge of the provenance of books, and of signs that they have been read: this shows us what books were actually owned and used, and by what sorts of people (as opposed to the mere knowledge of what books were printed), and this knowledge has come to be much more valued by scholars and librarians in recent years. He then described the various sorts of provenance evidence. Continue reading 'Discovering Provenance in Book History: two accounts of David Pearson’s masterclass'»

Peter Jones’s Masterclass – Epidemic print: medical incunabula and their readers – A post by Katie Flanagan (Royal College of Physicians)

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By , 22 February 2012 1:08 pm

Inc.3.B.3.45(1519), fol. a3v

I was delighted to get a place on the masterclass “Epidemic print: medical incunabula and their readers”, particularly as I look after the Royal College of Physicians’ rare book collections which includes over 100 incunabula. The session was conducted by Mr Peter Jones, the librarian at King’s College, Cambridge, who certainly brought the books on display to life, as well as putting them into context.

Mr Jones commenced with an overview of how medical incunabula ended up in Cambridge University Library. Many arrived in Cambridge relatively soon after printing, including nine separate volumes brought from Ferrara in 1477 straight to Cambridge. After religious houses, doctors were the main acquirers of books, so medical texts came to Cambridge from the 1470s onwards. These were intended for both medical practice and academic study and many found their way into the University Library. The spread of epidemic disease in Europe played a big part in the production of medical books. In the 15th century plague was localized and specific, so places where the plague struck were also places where plague tracts were produced. Diseases such as the ‘English Sweat’ and syphilis had a high mortality rate even amongst the wealthy and led to the publication of related tracts.

We went on to examine twenty incunabula in detail. One of the joys of a small group such as this, was the chance to see these close-up and study them ourselves. They were arranged in thematic groups, and Mr Jones introduced each one, with plenty of opportunity for further comment and questions from participants.

Inc.5.J.3.5(3604), fol. (a1)r

We started off with texts  whose publication followed an outbreak of disease, notably the Regimen contra pestilentiam, ca. 1485 (ISTC ij00013400; Inc.5.J.3.5[3604]). These are texts that tend to be ephemeral in nature and are accidental survivors; there were probably far more of these in circulation than we are aware of now. There were two editions of this text in 1485, coinciding with the arrival of the English Sweat. It was a useful comparison with the plague tract at the RCP (ref. no. 21858), extensively annotated and published in Antwerp between December 1486 and May 1487 (ISTC ij00003550).  Similarly, the next item, Jacobi Soldi Opus de peste , 1478 (ISTC is00613000; Inc.5.b.10.10[2064]), demonstrated how these texts were written to be used, with annotations dating from the 15th and 16th centuries.

Another example was a broadside, Johann Muntz, Tabula minutionum, before 1495, with tables giving particular months of the year for blood-letting, targeted to provide information with a very practical reference purpose (ISTC im00875300; Inc.Broadside.0[4100]).

Inc.Broadsides.0(4100) - detail


Several questions from the historians in the group were posed about the technicalities of printing illustrations whilst we looked at some herbals. The same woodcuts were used repeatedly, making the herbal of little use in identifying plants. Their use lay in describing use of plants in medicine, rather than botanical description. One example of this was the Herbarius Latinus, 1484 (ISTC ih00062000; Inc.4.A.1.3b[19]), with woodcut hand-coloured illustrations, names given in Latin and German and annotations giving Polish names in addition. These texts tended to be old-fashioned for the time – in two thirds of publications of this time the text was by an author who was already dead, for example, the Hortus sanitatis, not after 21 October 1497 (ISTC ih00487000; CCB.47.62).

Conversely the Opusculum aegritudinum puerorum, 1486-87 (ISTC ir00241000; Inc.5.F.2.7[3380.1-3])  was by a living author, Cornelis Roelans, a town physician. He put together various writings on the diseases of children. Tantalisingly, the first 77 leaves of every known copy of this work are missing, possibly indicating the author was not happy with the proofs and had them all disposed of? The only survival is single leaves found in Cambridge bindings.

Another theme was books without a strictly medical approach. One example was De secretis mulierum, 1485 (ISTC ia00304500; Inc.4.J.3.4[3603]), a book about generation and reproduction, written by an author in a monastic house, and notably misogynistic! This showed a more philosophical approach than scientific.  Information about medicine was not only accessed via medical texts, but also via  encyclopedias, an example of which was the final book on display, Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De proprietatibus rerum, 1496 (ISTC ib00143000; Inc.3.J.1.2[3559]).

Other highlights for me included seeing another copy of Antonio Gazius, Corona florida medicinae, 1491 (ISTC ig00111000; Inc.2.B.3.45[1506]), of which we also have a copy at the RCP (ref. no. 21416-3), although, sadly, our copy isn’t annotated, and Antonio Guainerio, Practica, 1497/98 (ISTC ig00521000; Inc.3.B.3.85[1671]), which contains medical recipes at the back, attributed to Richard Bartlot, a 16th century President of the RCP.

Inc.3.B.3.85(1671), fol. T6v - Detail with Bartlot's annotations

The masterclass was a great overview of medical incunabula, and, as well as learning about the books themselves, provided a good opportunity to engage with the variety of people involved with studying and working with incunabula, not just librarians. A useful bibliography was also provided. My thanks to Mr Jones, for such a lively and interesting masterclass, and to the staff of the Rare Books Room for organizing the event and putting out the examples for us to view.

Paul Needham’s masterclass at Cambridge University Library – A post by Satoko Tokunaga (Keio University)

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By , 18 July 2011 11:54 am


Henry Bradshaw

On the afternoon of June 7, a workshop entitled “Collation and Composition in the Fifteenth Century” was conducted by Dr Paul Needham in the Sir Geoffrey Keynes Room, a perfect place for this special occasion. The main topic of this workshop was, as the title reveals, the collation and composition of incunabula. Borrowing Dr Needham’s words, it was a most timely topic for this workshop, for 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the “invention” of the collational formula by Henry Bradshaw (1831-86), an eminent bibliographer and librarian with a deep connection with Cambridge.

The collation is essential for us to learn, and most of us probably learned about it in foundational texts such as W. W. Greg’s “Formulary of Collation” (The Library (1934), 4th ser. XIV. no. 4), Fredson Bowers’ Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949; repr. 1994, etc.) and Philip Gaskell’s New Introduction to Bibliography (1972; corrected ed. 1974; paperback ed. 1995, etc.). Needless to say, bibliographers are trained to describe a book using the collational formula. It is an essential but not an easy task. I cannot help asking myself how much of my life I have spent counting the number of leaves in books. Of course, counting matters in the book world, but Dr Needham raised a further essential question: What, then, is collation? Why does it matter? In this workshop, we were awakened by this fundamental question, and through his wonderfully clear talk, together with stunningly beautiful books, we were able to see how much collation can reveal about the composition of a book, which provides new insights into the actual process of early printing.


First, Dr Needham pointed out that few people described the concept of collation and also that little acknowledgement was made of Bradshaw’s invention. Using Bradshaw’s handwritten memo on the collation of a mid-15th century manuscript in the Scheide Library, Dr Needham emphasized that Bradshaw’s method could reveal the physical composition or structure of a book in a simpler but clearer way than those proposed by scholars after him, such as Greg and Bowers. Then, he showed an example of the collational formula, using the CUL copy of the Gutenberg Bible (B42) [ISTC ib00526000], i.e. Inc.1.A.1.1[3761]. Of course, it does not mean that Bradshaw’s method can solve anything; there may be some limitations (and in the midst of the workshop, it was hotly argued whether there was any perfect method that could both describe the collation of an ideal copy and record the physical condition of a copy at hand, such as a lack of leaves, in a single and clear form). However, it has certain merits, for example, making a singleton leaf in a quire explicit. In a bibliographical study, such an anomaly may reveal something about book production, and Dr Needham presented the case that the blank page of the singleton in quire 25 of the B42 might explain something about the editorial decision (or hesitation?) to include the apocryphal chapter 4 of Ezra, using a handout of the collation formula handwritten by himself.

Indeed, to collate a book, we need not only to count the number of leaves, but also to scrutinize the book itself. Then, we might get a chance to find what has not been unearthed over hundreds of years, as Dr Needham did. In the last part of the workshop, he told of a wonderful episode concerning his discovery of an exemplar, as if restaging it, using the actual books he had examined. More than two decades ago, he found that “#” marks appeared regularly in the CUL copy of the B42 and further identified that they matched the page breaks of the third of the Vulgate editions printed in Strassburg by Heinrich Eggestein, c. 1469 [ISTC ib00533000], a copy of which is  Inc.1.A.2.3[84] in CUL .

[The images reproduce the beginning of the Gospel of Luke in the Gutenberg Bible, vol. 2, leaves [217] verso – [218] recto in vol. 2, and the Eggestein Bible, vol. 2, leaf [215] verso]


[The marginal marks on the leaves of the CUL copy of the Gutenberg Bible match the beginning and the end of the text on leaf [215] verso of the Eggestein Bible]


This means that the “#” marks were addedby compositor(s) in Eggestein’s printing shop in Strassburg and the CUL copy of the B42 served as the copy-text for Eggestein’s edition. In fact, this observation matched a study on illumination by Prof. Eberhard König, who proposed that the CUL copy of the B42 had been illuminated in either Basel or Strassburg. In early printing, there survive only a few books whose copy-texts have been identified, and it is therefore amazing to find such an example among monumental books like the B42.

What I have summed up here is only part of the talk. For example, details about Dr Needham’s discovery of the CUL copy of the B42 being used as a copy-text can be found in his article “A Gutenberg Bible Used as Printer’s Copy by Heinrich Eggestein in Strassburg, ca. 1469”, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 9 (1986). On Henry Bradshaw, see his The Bradshaw Method: Henry Bradshaw’s Contribution to Bibliography (1988). After listening to his talk, I can vividly envisage what he explains in his articles, and above all, I find more joy in collation than ever before. It is all thanks to his well-organized talk and the preparation by the staff of the Rare Books Room. Indeed, it was really wonderful to have the original materials, and it was generous of the organizers to allow attendees to freely examine them during and after the workshop. Moreover, questions from the attendees were fascinating (and the size of the group was perfect for that), though they sometimes interrupted the flow of Dr Needham’s talk. Nevertheless, he gave deliberate thought to answering all of them, always getting his talk back on track beautifully. While writing this, I am still excited that I was able to be there, and I am sincerely grateful to Dr Needham and the staff of the Munby Rare Books Room for organizing the workshop. I am looking forward to future occasions!

Satoko Tokunaga

June 2011