MAGNIFICENT EARLY INCUNABULUM – ON VELLUM
Secunda secundae partis.
[Mainz, Peter Schöffer, 6 March 1467.]
ON VELLUM. Large 4to. 318 x 270mm, several leaves and all lower margins trimmed down to perimeter of the text block (272 x 186mm). 252 of 258 unnumbered and unsigned ll., A-D10 E9 F11 G10 H9 I-K10 L-N8 O9 P-T10 V6 X-Z10 A-C10 D4, 59 lines per page, colophon (variant without ‘thome de aquino’) on fol. 252v. Gothic letter (Haebler type: 3:91 G), double column. Opening page of text with 12-line initial P (Florence or Ferrara?) supplied in red and blue with red penwork flourishes and white-on-red infill of floral decoration, capital letters and running headings supplied in alternating red and blue, chapter numbers supplied in red on margins. Fol. 1a and verso of last a bit dusty, occasionally a trifle yellowed, small vellum flaws as usual to few outer blank margins, the odd one touching text, couple of leaves respectively with two ink splashes and two small wax stains with tiny holes touching two letters. A remarkably clean and fresh copy in early C18 Netherlandish sprinkled calf, marbled eps, flyleaves with Jean Villeray watermark, triple gilt ruled, large gilt fleurons to corners, outer edges gilt, spine divided into seven compartments, gilt star-shaped tool and gilt cornerpieces to each, gilt-lettered morocco label, gold-tooled raised bands, covers, spine and joints rubbed, lower joint cracked, upper split at head. Swedish bibliographic annotations dated 1899 to fly, C16 inscriptions ‘Secunda 2e D. Thomae, antiquissima’ and ‘Loci Annuntiatae Caesenae A.num.70’ to upper blank margin of first leaf, intermittent leaf numbers inked to outer margins.
Remarkably fresh copy of this magnificent, early and important incunabulum printed by Peter Schöffer—‘a rare and extraordinary book’ (Lowndes, ‘British Librarian’, 570) and, in this case, an unusual early witness to the cultural shift between manuscript and print. It is the second edition of this theological milestone, first printed by Johann Mentelin c.1463. Of the 71 examples of the 1467 edition recorded in GW, only 11 are on vellum and several defective. After studying in Paris and working for a few years as a manuscript copyist, Peter Schöffer (or Schoeffer, 1425-1503) entered Gutenberg’s workshop in Mainz, becoming one of his closest collaborators in the printing of the 42-line Bible. He sided with Johann Fust, lawyer and goldsmith, in a suit brought and won against Gutenberg; the two left Gutenberg bankrupt and opened their own printing workshop in Mainz. They produced masterpieces like the Psalter of 1457—the first book with printed decorated initials—and the fourth printed Bible of 1462, of which the same type appears in the present edition (Lange, ‘Peter Schöffer’, 7). It was the first work printed by Schöffer alone, after Fust’s death in 1465, and the first ever to bear a printing date. As subject, he chose ‘the most widely-read portion of the most comprehensive and systematic statement of medieval Christian doctrine’, on Christian virtues, saintliness, active and contemplative life (‘Peter Schoeffer’, 33); i.e., the second part of Thomas Aquinas’s (1225-74) ‘Summa theologica’, intended for the instruction of students of theology, and the founding text of Scholasticism.
The superb decorated initial, in red and blue penwork with flourishes, closely resembles rubricated initials produced in Florence or Ferrara in the late C15. The capital letters alternating in red and blue are a close match to those on the copy bound for George III (BL C.15.d.3, recorded in Milan before 1472) and those on the copy at Glasgow University Library (Sp Coll BD9-a.4, unknown early provenance). Schöffer sold a substantial portion of his books to distant markets. In particular, of the 23 copies of this edition examined by Dr Lotte Hellinga, 12 of which were rubricated with flourishing and limning, 11 were not decorated in Mainz (Hellinga, ‘Incunabula’, 112, 466).
The inscription above the incipit places this copy in Italy in the early C16, at the monastery of the Friars Observants at Cesena, founded in 1458 and victim to the Napoleonic secularisation c.1800. It boasted an excellent library, thanks to the generosity of many benefactors including Cardinal Bessarion, as well as a workshop with copyists and rubricators (‘Memorie’, III, 72). The several trimmed margins of this copy are fascinating early witnesses to the cultural shift from manuscript to print in the minds of Schöffer’s contemporaries. In medieval times, vellum manuscript were often deprived of wide margins for use as binding material, library and book labels or document slips (Clemens and Graham, ‘Introduction’, 113); clearly, for its early owner, this vellum copy was no different from a traditional vellum manuscript. Since the monastery of Cesena began to use ex-libris stamps in addition to ms. in the early C16 (see ‘Bibliotheca Franciscana’), it is probable this copy was there before or c.1500, and the margins trimmed then. Convents were still the major possessors of theological books at the time, and they were also more likely to need such ample supply of vellum pieces if they also employed their own copyists and probably binders (Bühler, ‘Fifteenth-Century Book’, 79-80), especially with the explosion of library holdings after the invention of printing.
Handsomely printed on vellum by one of the fathers of early printing, and one of the greatest medieval texts.
GW records only 1 US vellum copy at LC.
BMC XV, p. 24; Hain 1549*. A. Lange, Peter Schöffer von Gernsheim, der Buchdrucker und Buchhändler (Leipzig, 1864); Peter Schoeffer: Printer of Mainz, ed. E.M. White (Dallas, 2003); L. Hellinga, Incunabula in Transit (Leiden, 2018); F. da Parma, Memorie istoriche delle chiese (Parma, 1761), vol. III; R. Clemens and T. Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca, NY: 2007); C.F. Bühler, The Fifteenth-Century Book (Philadelphia, 1960); Bibliotheca Franciscana, ed. Z. Zanardi (Florence, 1999).