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