Guildhall Library is currently working on an exciting project regarding some of the rarest items in our collection – our incunabula. The library holds 72 incunabula – books, pamphlets or broadsides printed in Europe before 1501 – in our historic collections. The majority of our collection is due to the generosity of individuals in the late 19th century who donated them to our library. We are in the process of adding our incunabula to the MEI Catalogue (Material Evidence in Incunabula), part of the Consortium of European Research Libraries.
At the same time, we are photographing the key features of each item and creating Pinterest boards for each, so they can be seen by all in their full glory. We are recording and photographing features of their previous ownership – such as bookplates, signatures, inscriptions – and looking at how the items were used and valued through the centuries by noting readers’ annotations, symbols, bindings and even prices. We are also adding these images to our own catalogue and to the MEI catalogue – we’re extremely proud to be the first library to add images to MEI!
The aim of this project is to make our incunabula information available to academics, fellow librarians and the public worldwide. The information we are adding may be used in various ways, for example, to assist researchers who are looking that into the historic library of an individual or organisation, to explore how a particular work was received by readers in 16th century England, or even to investigate the going rate for incunabula in the 19th century. We hope that researchers might also be able to collaborate by assisting with transcriptions – in fact, we’ve already had one instance where a very faint signature was able to be read by one of the coordinators at MEI.
The project began at the start of this year and should run for about a year. Two incunables are brought up from the stores each Thursday and scoured for provenance marks and other points of interest. Two members of the project team then meet each Thursday afternoon to photograph the items. It’s always a bit of a surprise as to what we will see on any given Thursday.
Highlights so far have included a very cute manicule (pointing finger – seen above), some interesting bindings and clasps, some intriguing tri-foils and some lovely examples of rubrication. It’s been interesting to note that whilst some items have retained their original bindings (such as INC39), the owners have rebound others according their personal taste (for example, the rather lavish 19th century binding of INC32 – detail shown below).
The prices sometimes scrawled inside the covers have also been fascinating to see. The price of £1, 1s, 0 pence on the inside cover of INC39 is approximately £109 in today’s money. The same book also features a title page with three different inscriptions – showing a chain of ownership through the centuries (pictured below).
We’re updating catalogue entries and adding new Pinterest boards as we go along so keep an eye out! All of the boards can be seen at: http://www.pinterest.com/GLincunabula/
If you have any comments, queries or can see some text that you can transcribe where we have not been able to, please comment below or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org