500 year old inky fingerprints uncovered in German incunabule

speccoll
Tuesday 10 January 2012

Whilst recataloguing our copy of a 1473 Augsburg printing of a collection of works in German  (including a translation of Pope Gregory I‘s Dialogorum libri quattuor, a German translation of Visio Tnugdali, and four other tracts) I came across a not-often-seen phenomenon: printer’s fingerprints visible in ink in the margins.

Inky smudges of a printer's or pressworker's hands, with some transfer from wet ink on the text, found in the lower margin of the beginning of Visio Tnugdali in TypGA.A73BG.

As I began to leaf through this second tract in this volume, almost all of the margins hinted at some inky-handling. This is not a wholly uncommon phenomenon to be found in very early printed books, but it does hint at a level of unprofessionality or unawareness which is supported by the fact that the fifth and sixth leaves of this tract suffer from some transfer from having laid down printed pages before they were dry. This is probably the case, as this is one of the earlier printed books by Johann Bämler who started printing in 1472. This is also only the second book recorded to be printed at the Benedictine abbey of St. Ulrich und Afra at Augsburg.

Even more exciting, however, was when I reached leaf 11 of this tract to find a very clear fingerprint (probably an index finger) in the margins, and again on leaf 12! This great bit of evidence brought this book to life for me.

A clearly defined inky fingerprint found on the recto of leaf 11 of Visio Tnugdali in TypGA.A73BG.

DG

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