52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 27: The biggest incunabula on our shelves

Friday 16 December 2011
The tabbed fore-edge of our massive copy of Anton Koberger’s 1483 printing of Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum historiale.

This week’s binding gem is hard to miss and it is in the queue to be recatalogued fully in the next few weeks, but I couldn’t resist sharing it with you now. Our copy of Anton Koberger’s 1483 printing of Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum historiale is a monster: it is close to 45 cm tall and easily weighs over 13 or 14 kg.

TypGN.A83KV is so big, I had to position my camera on the shelf above just to fit it all into frame!

This massive tome is bound in contemporary pigskin on heavy oak boards, which are exposed on the inside of the covers revealing their beautiful grain. The pigskin has been blind stamped using rosette and foliage stamps tools which are found on other books bound in Nuremberg at the time. The book also has some extant contemporary furniture: one central boss and two clasp plates on the front board and one corner boss on the back board. There are still impressions and faint outlines of the other existing pieces of furniture which tell us that this item originally had a central boss on the back board and bosses at each corner.

The contemporary corner boss found on the back board, with an "Ave Maria" engraving around the border.

The book has also been tabbed on its fore-edge using paper and copper markers that have been pasted to the relevant pages. These tabs give quick and easy access to some of the most beautiful pages, including two illuminated and heavily decorated pages and numerous pages with large blue and red initials.

The large illuminated initial found on the first page of Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum historiale.

This book was purchased in 1982, from the Sotheby’s sale of the library of Senhor German Mailhos and Senhora Johana Auersperg de Mailhos of Uruguay, and, as mentioned above, will be fully catalogued soon, so watch the library catalogue record for further updates.


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5 thoughts on "52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 27: The biggest incunabula on our shelves"

  • Matthew
    Friday 16 December 2011, 6.54pm

    Gorgeous book! I am really enjoying your series of fine bindings. Please keep it up.

  • Christine Gascoigne
    Christine Gascoigne
    Sunday 18 December 2011, 12.36pm

    You may like to note that it was bought to support Professor Donald Watt's seminal edition of the Scotichronicon.

  • St Andrews Rare Books
    St Andrews Rare Books
    Sunday 18 December 2011, 1.21pm

    Fantastic information Christine, I'll make sure to add it to the catalogue record when it reaches my desk!

  • Karenmca
    Monday 19 December 2011, 10.18am


  • 52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings « The Special Collections Handbook
    Thursday 5 January 2012, 2.48pm

    [...] at the University of St Andrews.  Masses of beautiful and intriguing books, check out their biggest incunable or this lovely Tennyson edition.  A great resource, and a weekly treat! [...]


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