Die Cronica van der hilliger stat van Coellen.

Cologne, Johann Koelhoff, the Younger, 23 Aug. 1499.


FIRST EDITION. Folio. ff 368. A–I⁶, K10, L–Z6, a–d⁶, e4, f–z6, aa–nn⁶. Gothic letter. Table in 2 columns, 49-51 lines, single or double-line headings, Lombard initials of type 290G, woodcut border pieces, title page with the arms and saints of Cologne, 370 woodcuts with repetitions, one double page, many full page, capital spaces with guide-letters, woodcuts in fine contemporary hand colouring, (a few exceptions), mss. note at head of title, remarkable C18th engraved armorial bookplate on verso of t-p, arms at centre, two bears at sides, skull above, the motto “Malheur mest heur ourssin” (an interesting play on the word ‘heur’ meaning both chance and time). Light age yellowing, leaves of table lightly browned, very expertly restored in lower margin, and at gutter on a final leaves, occasional thumb mark in lower outer corner, the odd ink splash A very good copy, crisp on thick paper, the colouring very fresh, in modern brown morocco, covers bordered with a double blind rule, spine with blind ruled raised bands. a.e.g.

First edition of the remarkably illustrated and important chronicle of Cologne containing 370 woodcut illustrations, many full page, with the celebrated view of Cologne, and including depictions of battles, chivalric scenes, portraits, etc. nearly all beautifully coloured in a contemporary hand. The colouring in this copy is fresh and well preserved. The Cologne Chronicle is particularly famous for a lengthy passage, on leaf 311, that provides the first printed account of the development of printing, a somewhat contentious passage, which includes information supplied by Ulrich Zell, first printer of Cologne. In it he appears to suggest that Gutenberg’s discovery of movable type may have been preceded by some years by the work of Laurens J. Coster in the Netherlands. Zell learned the art of printing at Mainz in the 1460s. His account is problematic primarily in that it discusses a precursor (“Vorbyldung”) of printing coming from the Netherlands with the Donatus editions. In later centuries this was seized on as important evidence by those who believed Haarlem, not Mainz, to be the birthplace of printing. “The most detailed fifteenth-century account of the European invention of printing with moveable type appeared in the “Cologne Chronicle” of 1499. This text includes the early Cologne printer Ulrich Zel’s testimony that Johannes Gutenberg had invented printing in Mainz by 1450, and that “the first book to be printed was the Bible in Latin, “with type as large as the type now used in the printing of Missals.” A variety of documentary and material evidence proves that the first substantial printed book in Europe was the undated, unsigned Latin Bible printed with 42 lines of “Missal” type per column, now famous as the ‘Gutenberg Bible.’” Bridwell library.

The author of the Chronicle was kept secret (but, given hints in the book, may have been a Dominican), but that did not deter the City Council from objecting to certain passages in it, and they directed their anger at its printer, Koelhoff the younger. The Council forbade distribution, resulting in Koelhoff being forced to sell his house in order to cover the costs of printing. To mitigate the Council’s objections, some passages were excised and revised. One example is in fo. kk5, which in the original details the less-than-gallant behaviour of Peter Langhals toward Emperor Maximilian when Maximilian fell from his horse during a tournament. The leaf was cancelled, and the passage was revised to read that Langhals sprang off his horse and helped Maximilian to his feet again. The Botfield copy retains the original reading.

“There are few ancient books which have been so frequently quoted, yet so rarely seen, as the present Chronicle. The possession of it is, indeed, essential to a Library .. since there is an important passage in it, relating to the invention of the Art of Printing with Metal Types, which merits very particular attention; and which has been referred to, or quoted, by bibliographers for nearly the two last centuries… The rarity of this Chronicle is sufficiently attested by bibliographers, even without noticing that Hartz and Buder… who wrote expressly upon German affairs, had no knowledge whatever of it; and Naudaus doubted its existence. I am disposed to think there are not three copies of it in this country…” Dibdin

A finely coloured copy of this remarkably illustrated and important chronicle.

BMC I 299. ISTC ic00476000. Goff C476. HC 4989. Bod-inc C-201. BSB-Ink C-284. GW 6688.


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