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Incunabula

The National Library has in its holdings approximately 4,200 incunabula (i.e. printed books published by the end of 1500). It is the largest collection of incunabula on the territory of the Czech Republic, being at the same time one of the most extensive in Central Europe. Its main part was constituted already in the last third of the 18th century when the collections of the other Jesuit Colleges and subsequently many convents in Bohemia abolished under Joseph II were added to the holdings of the Library of the Klementinum Jesuit College, which had further been joined by volumes of old college libraries of Prague University after the Battle of White Mountain. The collection was then abundantly complemented by purchases in the 20th century. It was significantly augmented at the end of 2006 when the National Library bought 550 incunabula from the Premonstratensian monastery in Teplá and this year, it acquired together with the holding of the former Franciscan monastery in Cheb other 500 printed books, among them a number of unique and unknown single sheets. Since the end of the 18th century already, incunabula have been assigned the shelf-mark range 39-44. The printed Germanica form a respectable almost 70% of the collection, Italica 25%, whereas 2% were printed in France. The remaining 3% consist of books printed in other European countries. From the total of 44 known incunabula printed by the end of 1500 on the territory of Bohemia itself, 23 editions are represented here at least in one copy, among them several unique copies. For example, from the group of the seven printed books from the oldest printing press active in Bohemia, which was operating in Pilsen around 1476-1479, six are in the National Library including Statuta [Statutes] by Arnošt of Pardubice with an imprint of 26th April 1476, these days considered to be probably the oldest domestic printed book and known to exist only in three copies in the world. Also the oldest printed book of Prague can be found here - a psalmbook printed in 1487.

The oldest item of the incunabula collection was until recently a fragment - one sheet from the so-called 42-line bible of Johannes Gutenberg, the first masterpiece of printing, completed perhaps already in 1454. A copy of the so-called 31-line Indulgence, has been recently procured, which is likely to have been printed also by Gutenberg in autumn 1454. It is then chronologically followed by the 48-line bible of Gutenberg´s successors in the printing press in Mainz Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer from 1462. Numerous famous typographical works can be found among Italian incunabula, from which we could mention at least Lactantius´ Opera with an imprint of 29th October 1465, the oldest printed book ever bearing a date from the first Italian printing press, which was established by Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz in the monastery of Subiaco near Rome.

Among the Klementinum incunabula, there are a number of the world’s unique copies or editions known today to exist only in a few exemplars. Among these unique copies are two printed books from the printing workshop of the Brethren of the Common Life in Rostock (small works by Anselm of CanterburySoliloquium iubilaeum and Stimulus amoris, both from around 1475) or the single-sheet excommunication document of Rostock burghers, which was issued on 9th April 1489 by the bishop in Ratzeburg in Schleswig-Holstein Johannes V. Parkentin and printed in Lübeck by Steffen Arndes. Another of these incunabula is a unique Latin psalmbook, which was printed in textura (gothic black-letter script) by the Antwerp printer Adriaen van Berghen in 1500. The oldest printed book among the typographical cimelia here was issued in Hungary, namely Chronica Hungarorum, printed by Andreas Hess in Buda in 1473. A great rarity is also Osmoglasnik [Oktoih], printed in Cyrillic typeface in Old Church Slavonic by the monk Makarije (Macarius) in his workshop at Cetinje in Montenegro at the turn of 1493 and 1494. It is one of the oldest works of the Balkan printed-book production.

Records of all incunabula can be found in:

STT -  Incunabula, Early Printed Books and Maps 1450-1800

The items are also recorded in the international union catalogue of incunabula (under the shelf-mark abbreviation "Prague NL"):

The Illustrated Incunabula Short-Title Catalogue on CD-ROM (accessible at http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/istc/index.html)

The essential printed bibliographies of Bohemian and Moravian incunabula:

Emma Urbánková, Soupis prvotisků českého původu [A List of Incunabula of Bohemian Origin], Praha 1986.

Vladislav Dokoupil, Počátky brněnského knihtisku. Prvotisky [The Beginnings of Brno Book Printing, Incunabula], Brno 1974.

Kamil Boldan