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Research

Early Printing in Europe: examples in Bodleian collections

The Bodleian’s collections of early printed books contain over 6000 incunables (books printed before 1500).

The stories these collections tell cross many centuries and continents. Technological and business innovation in 15th-century Germany launched a printing trade that supplanted manuscript copies of many scholarly and religious works, and made possible new forms of text and illustrative practices.

Among the most valuable items in the collection are 'Russkaia pravoslavnaia tserkov’ (a picture calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church) and 'Chroniques de France' (The Chroniques of Monstrelet -1390?-1453- form one of the most important historical works of the 15th century. This edition was long considered to have been an incunable. The decorated miniatures illustrate the content of the chapters: they have been painted over printed synopses, the text of which has been written in by hand in the margin).

Contemporaries and later collectors who appreciated the skill of the printers and valued the books as fine objects ensured their preservation in libraries, where they survive as witnesses of every stage in a profound transformation of communications technology.

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