Early Print And Fine Press: HMML Special Collections

Early Print and Fine Press

In the late 19th century, a handful of printers sought to pursue printing books as an art. In looking for earlier book designers to emulate, they turned to the early generations of printers from the 15th and 16th centuries. The Special Collections at HMML are well suited to the study of both early printing and the tradition of producing beautiful, handmade books. This is especially true of the Arca Artium collection, donated by Frank Kacmarcik (1920-2004), who was himself a book artist who collected rare books with an eye to finding fine-press imprints as examples for his own work. His collection provides examples of fine printing from the 15th to the 20th centuries.

Early Print

There are approximately 75-80 books printed in the 15th century in the HMML Special Collections, several of which are landmarks in their own right, such as the Glossa Ordinaria (1481) or gloss on the Bible, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Genealogiae deorum (1495), the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, or Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda aurea in a German edition (1485) with hand-colored woodcuts. There are also works by John Cassian, Johannes Trithemius (from 1498 and 1500), and Jean Gerson, as well as an edition of Guillaume Caoursin’s Obsidionis Rhodiae urbis descriptio (1480 Venice?). The collections also include over 100 individual leaves from incunabula, including the Nuremberg Chronicle, the 1459 Benedictine Psalter, the Catholicon, and from German-language Bibles.


Early Print

Servius. Commentaria in Bucolica, Georgica et Aeneidem Vergilii, Venice: Christophorus Valdarfer, 1471. Useful example for studying the binding and structure of an early printed book, as well as serving as an early example of printing in Roman rather than Gothic type.

Diogenes Laertius. Laertii Diogenis Vitae et sententiae eorum qui in philosophia probati fuerunt, Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1475. Early use of Jenson's Roman type, which would prove influential for later artists like William Morris. Like many incunabula, it was later re-bound and the leaves washed - remnants of early handwritten notes are still barely visible.

Petrus de Bergamo. Super omnia opera divini doctoris Thomae Aquinati tabula, Basel: Bernhardus Richel, 1478. Edition has hand-penned initials, but lacks a title page, pagination, and even signatures. The early binding contains a manuscript fragment and also shows evidence of having been “chained” in a library.

Gratianus. Decretum, Basel: Michael Wensler, 1482. Large volume of canon law; early example of a glossed text, like the Bible with the Glossa Ordinaria and numerous 16th-century editions of works by classical authors (e.g., Ovid or Juvenal) or philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas. Volume has an informative colophon.

Missale Romanum, Venice: Andreas de Paltasichis, 11 February 1485. Small copy of the Roman Missal wanting leaves at the front (in particular, the calendar); hand-painted and illuminated decoration. Like most printed books for Christian liturgy, the book is in black and red ink and even has red staves for music (no notation). HMML/SJU has a second incunable Missal from 1493.

Jacobus de Voragine. Dat duytschen Passionails, Cologne: L. van Renchen, 1485. Part II only. Low German translation of a Latin collection of saints’ lives includes an extensive array of woodcuts depicting the saints or their martyrdoms. Many woodcuts colored by hand.

Cassian, John. Cassianus de Institutis cenobiorum, Origi[n]e causis et remedijs vitiorum; Collationib[us] patrum, Basel: Johann Amerbach, 1485. This multi-title volume contains the first edition of De Institutis cenobiorum by John Cassian, a major influence on the development of western Christian monasticism; Arca Artium also has an earlier edition printed in 1476-1477.

Biblia integra, Basel: Froben, 1491. Froben, who later became a close friend and the publisher of Erasmus of Rotterdam, produced the first “octavo” Bible that could be easily carried and read anywhere (most early Bibles were large and heavy). The Bible has durable pigskin binding and clasps.

Boccaccio, Giovanni. Genealogiae deorum. Additions by Dominicus Silvester. Venice: Bonetus Locatellus, for Octavianus Scotus, 23 Feb. 1494/1495. Family history of several of the ancient gods, along with very elaborate woodcut genealogical tables.

Fine Press

The Arca Artium Rare Book Collection offers a wide range of fine printing examples, from incunabula to 20th-century fine-press editions of great variety. From the 16th century there are examples of the work of Aldus Manutius, Hans Froben, Simon de Colines, the Estienne family, Jean Petit, Christopher Plantin, and many others. The 18th century is well represented by editions printed by John Baskerville (including the large 1763 Bible in English), Giambattista Bodoni, and the Didot family. From the 1890s to the 1960s there are examples of work by William Morris’ Kelmscott Press, the Doves Press, Eragny Press, Vale Press, Merrymount Press, Golden Cockerel Press, Saint Dominic’s Press, and many more. Influential modern book artists and graphic designers are well represented, including Eric Gill, W.A. Dwiggins, Frederic and Bertha Goudy, Rockwell Kent, Rudolf Koch, Frans Masereel, Bruce Rogers, Hilary Pepler, and many more.

Aldus Manutius. Pontano, Giovanni Gioviano. Pontani Opera: Urania, sive de stellis libri quinque..., Venice: In aedibus Aldi et Andreae Asulani soceri, 1513.

John Baskerville. The Holy Bible, containing the Old Testament and the New. Cambridge: Printed by J. Baskerville, 1763.

Ashendene Press. Boccaccio, Giovanni. Il libro di Messer Giovanni Boccaccio, cittadino fiorentino chiamato Il Decameron..., Chelsea: Nella Stamperia Ashendeniana, 1920.

Cuala Press. Yeats, William Butler. The Green Helmet and Other Poems, Churchtown, Dundrum: The Cuala Press, 1910.

Golden Cockerel. The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Authorized version of King James I, Waltham Saint Lawrence, Berkshire: Golden Cockerel Press, 1931.

Kelmscott Press. The Tale of Beowulf, Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1895.

Saint Dominic’s Press. Cantica natalia: viginti hymni in honorem Nativitatis Domini nostri Jesu Christi, Ditchling, Sussex: E Typographia S. Dominici, 1926.

Doves Press. The English Bible: containing the Old Testament & the New, Hammersmith: Doves Press, 1903-1905.

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