Historical Library


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The term incunabula is conventionally used to define a document printed by movable typo technology and realized before the second half of XV century. The term derives from the latin "incunabula" that means "bands", the latin term itself derives from "cuna" ("cradle"), from which the meaning of "origin", "beginning". Incunabula don’t generally have any frontispieces, but just a rough indication of the author’s name and a title in the incipit. Typographic notes, if available, can be found in the imprint.

The first books made by movable typo used to mime the look of the manuscripts, where this information was not necessary. The good conservation of many incunabula is due to the great quality of the paper they were made of, hand manufactured with cotton rags.

The first incunabulum is the Holy Bible printed by Gutemberg in Magonza in 1453-55, while in Italy the first specimens were made in Subiaco in 1464-65 by magontini Schweineim and Pannartz, who then moved to Rome in the Massimo palace, and by Ulrich Han in 1465.

There are almost 450.000 incunabula worldwide, 110.000 of them are in Italy. The largest gatherings are situated in London (British Library), in Washington (Library of Congress), in Paris (Bibliothèque nationale de France), in Munich (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek), in Vienna (Nationalbibliothek), in the Vatican Library, and in Naples (Biblioteca nazionale). Remarkable for beauty and rareness are the specimens preserved in Florence (Biblioteca Laurenziana) and in Manchester (John Rylands Library).

For Italy is available the general index of incunabula belonging to Italian libraries, made of six volumes, 1943-81.

Last update: 07 April 2022