Cambridge University Library Incunabula Project

A unique leaf from the Legenda ad usum Sarum (Paris: Guillaume Maynyal for William Caxton, 1488), CUL Inc.2.D.1.18, sig r4 recto.

The Incunabula Cataloguing Project began in October 2009 and is scheduled to run until 2014. Generously funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, it will see the creation of a modern and comprehensive catalogue of  the University Library’s renowned collection of incunables (books printed in or before the year 1500).  Until the start of the project, access to this collection was only available via the printed short-title catalogue compiled by J.C.T. Oates and published in 1954. At the end of the project, detailed records for all incunable holdings will be available online via Newton, Copac and OCLC WorldCat.

The UL’s collection comprises some 4,650 separate works, collected over the 500-year course of the Library’s history, with books previously found in the libraries of the great collectors from Thomas Rotherham (1423–1500) to A.W Young (1852–1936) and beyond. The collection includes examples of some of the oldest, rarest and most beautiful incunables extant worldwide, with particular strengths in holdings from the presses of the low countries and England.

Dott. Laura Nuvoloni was appointed to the post of Research Associate in October 2009, and has already passed the 1000-catalogue-records mark.  The cataloguing work has revealed much new information about the books, spanning many book-historical fields:

  • The possible identification of the editio princeps of Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum (CUL Inc.3.B.3.1b[1332]).
  • The identification of Felice Feliciano as the annotator of a copy of Roberto Valturio’s De re militari (SSS.4.14).
  • The discovery of an unknown edition of the Liber de intentionibus, a work by the 14th-century Dominican friar Franciscus de Prato, in an edition of Johannes Versoris’s Quaestiones librorum praedicabilium et praedicamentorum et posteriorum Aristotelis (Inc.5.B.7.10[4004]).
Roberto Valturio, De re militari (Verona, 1472), CUL SSS.4.14, sig r10 recto. Image of a war machine with captions added by Felice Feliciano.

The progress of the project is documented on the Incunabula Project blog, where you can find posts about new discoveries and unsolved mysteries.  Guest posts from those studying CUL incunabula are warmly welcomed: see, for example, Paul Needham’s reassessment of three editions by Laurentius Canotius of Padua.

The catalogue records created in this project include detailed information about the binding, illumination and decoration, provenance, and imperfections of the copies held by the Library.  Browsable indexes of institutional and personal ownership are now available on the project pages, and are continually updated as new records are added to the catalogue.

The books can be viewed in person by placing orders as normal in the Munby Rare Books Reading Room of Cambridge University Library.

Katie Birkwood

Rare Books Specialist, Cambridge University Library