Tag Archives: 15th century

Cardiff incunabula cataloguing update

???????????????????????????????I am pleased to report that the first 100 incunabula (books printed before 1501) from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection have now been now been added to Cardiff University’s online library catalogue as part of the ongoing rare books project. We are lucky to hold nearly 200 of these books dating from the first 50 years of printing and each one is being fully catalogued, recording all the copy-specific details which turn each of these earliest books into a unique historical artefact.

Detail from our copy of “Facsiculus temporum” by Werner Rolevinck (1474), with hand-colouring and illuminated initials

Cataloguing the incunabula is a long and meticulous task, but one which is already revealing new information about these fascinating items. Out of the books catalogued so far, we have found that eight are the only recorded copies in the UK and another 30 are only held by one or two more libraries. Through studying the bookplates, stamps and inscriptions, we are also able to uncover who donated the books to the library and occasionally even identify the original owner.

Ars moriendi (1478), with an ornamental border of acorns and leaves by Erhard Ratdolt

Ars moriendi (1478), with an ornamental border of acorns and leaves by Erhard Ratdolt

Unusually for books as old as these, many of the incunabula in the Cardiff collection are still in their contemporary vellum, calf or pigskin bindings and, even in poor condition, the structure and style of these bindings can tell us much about the early history of each book.


The missing spine on this 1475 edition of Albertus Magnus provides a rare view of the intricate sewing structure holding the book together

Highlights recently added to the library catalogue include:

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni. Filocolo [Venice: Philipo di Petri, 1481].
  • Macer, Floridus. De viribus herbarum [Geneva: Jean Belot, between 1495-1500]. (A rare herbal with hand-coloured woodcuts)
  • Petrarca, Francesco. Trionfi [Venice: Peregrinus de Pasqualibus Bononiensis, 1486].
  • Rolevinck, Werner. Fasciculus temporum [Cologne: Arnold ter Hoernen, 1474] (A beautifully coloured and annotated copy of this famous history of the world)
  • Watton, Johannes. Speculum christianorum [Paris: Pierre Le Dru and Etienne Jehannot, 1495]


Incunabula: cataloguing the earliest printed texts in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

Work has now started on the cataloguing of our important collection of nearly 200 incunabula, the earliest printed books held in Cardiff University Library’s Special Collections and Archives. Incunabula, from the Latin for ‘cradle’ or ‘swaddling clothes’, are defined as books printed before 1501, in the infancy of Western printing. Our collection includes books from the first major centres of printing in Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland and our earliest volumes date from around 1472, just 20 years after Johann Gutenberg printed his famous Bible, the first book printed in Europe with movable type.


Salvator Mundi from Rolevinck’s “Fasciculus temporum” (1474), with manuscript annotations.

IMG_0535The cataloguing project will create an individual record for each incunabulum in the library’s online catalogue with special emphasis on copy-specific information such as rubrication, hand-coloured decoration and illumination, binding, annotation and other provenance. Many of our incunabula show extensive evidence of former ownership in the form of bookplates, signatures, stamps and marginalia and these will be recorded in each record as an aid to research.

Our copy of Johannes de Bromyard’s “Opus trivium” (Lyon, 1500) is bound in a leaf of early music on vellum

The first printed books were typeset copies of manuscripts, often lacking title pages and even basic bibliographic information such as the author’s name or the date of publication. Sometimes details about the creation of an early work may be found in a colophon at the very end of the text, but as many as one-third of the surviving editions contain no information as to when, where or by whom they were printed. All of this makes the cataloguing of incunabula a highly complex and time-consuming process, but one which could potentially reveal new and fascinating information about the items we hold.

“Facsiculus temporum” by Werner Rolevinck, printed in Germany in 1474 with hand-colouring and illuminated initial letters.

I have already identified several books in our collection that are unique to the UK and some of these may even be the only extant copies in the world. For example, our copy of a 1500 Venetian edition of Guarino’s Regulae Grammaticales is the only complete copy listed in the British Library’s database of 15th century printing, the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC). As the oldest and often most valuable books held in libraries around the world, most major collections of incunabula have already been fully catalogued and documented. To be the first cataloguer to properly examine and describe some of these earliest printed books is a very rare and welcome opportunity and it will be very exciting to see what the project uncovers as it progresses.

The hammer of witches: Montague Summers and the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

In our rare book collections we have a number of curious works by Montague Summers (1880-1948), an eccentric Catholic clergyman, occultist and authority on English Restoration drama. Summers read theology at Oxford University and worked as a teacher of English and Latin before turning to writing, producing well-received scholarly works on 17th century theatre and publishing new editions of neglected plays by William Congreve, John Dryden and others.


After drama, Summers’ other great interest was in the occult. During his unusual career as a priest he assumed the persona of a modern-day Catholic witch-hunter and produced meticulous studies of witchcraft, vampires, and werewolves, all of which he professed to believe in. In 1928, he was responsible for the first English translation of Heinrich Kramer’s and James Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum (“The Hammer of Witches”), a notorious Latin treatise on witch-hunting, first published in Germany in 1487.


The stated purpose of the original text was to educate courts on the procedures for identifying and convicting witches, to refute arguments that witchcraft does P1200725not exist and to discredit those who expressed disbelief. Assisted by the rise of the printing press, the Malleus spread throughout Europe to become a major influence on the witch crazes of the 16th and 17th centuries. As many as 30 editions of the book were published between 1487 and 1669, even though the Catholic Church condemned the Malleus as false just three years after its first appearance and even the Spanish Inquisition dismissed the work as pagan superstition.

P1200734In contrast to the scepticism of modern Catholicism, Montague Summers insisted that the reality of witchcraft is still an essential part of Catholic doctrine, and declared the Malleus Maleficarum to be an accurate account of witchcraft and the methods needed to combat it. His History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926) begins, “In the following pages, I have endeavoured to show the witch as she really was – an evil liver: a social pest and parasite: the devotee of a loathly and obscene creed: an adept at poisoning, blackmail, and other creeping crimes.”

Summers’ own volumes on witches and vampires brought him considerable renown and critics admired the obvious depth of his learning, while not necessarily sharing his credulity. As a notable eccentric who walked the streets of London in the  sweeping robes and buckled shoes of an 18th century cleric and was an acquaintance of Aleister Crowley, a self-proclaimed witch,  Montague Summers has inspired numerous legends, both malevolent and benign, which only add to his curious character.



Cardiff’s copy of Covent Garden Drollery, edited and signed by Montague Summers

In the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, we hold numbered copies of both Summers’ translation of the Malleus Maleficarum and his 1930 edition of Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. They all feature in our current Special Collections and Archives exhibition on Shakespeare, magic and witchcraft.