The Early Printing Collection: An Introduction

Special Collections and University Archives at UMD is home to a new (very old!) collection of early printing. The collection has been processed and digitized, and is available in Digital Collections or by request in person in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library. You can also view our Flickr album featuring images from the collection.


Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

The Early Printing Collection is a set of thirty-six leaves and pages that were printed in Europe in the late 15th century. It includes printed pages from many well-known works, including the The Nuremberg Chronicle, Historia Scholastica and The Cologne Chronicle.


Typographical printing done before 1501 in Europe is often called Incunabula, a funny pseudo-Latin phrase that refers to the birth of printing in the 15th century. The 15th century saw important advances in the movable type printing press thanks to Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press invented around 1450. The Gutenberg Bible is the first (and probably most famous) book printed using movable type, and while you won’t find any of its pages in the Early Printing Collection, the collection does feature many other pages from Bibles and other religious and historical chronicles printed around the same time period. Within the collection the printing itself is generally clear and easy to read — that is, if you understand Latin or Middle German!

Early Printing History


Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

Even though the leaves are over 500 years old, the collection is in relatively good condition and provides excellent examples of early printing history, from paper-making to moveable type setting to woodblock printing. Many of the leaves were printer’s proof sheets or scraps, but since paper was still a relatively valuable commodity at the time, these scrap pages were recycled and used in book-binding. They’ve since been removed from bindings, but many still bear marks from the old binding paste.

Looking more closely at the leaves in the collection, you can find examples of mould-made papers with visible chain lines and laid lines that indicate how the paper was made by hand using a wire mesh screen. Watermarks, the designs and images found in laid paper, can also be seen on some of the leaves, especially those from the Nuremberg Chronicle. Most of the printing is done in a Gothic typeface, also called Blackletter, though there are a few examples of roman type as well. There are leaves from several important printers from the time period, including Günther Zainer from Augsburg, Konrad Dinckmut from Ulm, and Johann Koelhoff The Younger of Cologne. As for the context, most of the leaves are from religious texts like bibles, psalters, and books of hours, while a few of the leaves come from historical and legal texts.

Explore the Collection in the Classroom

The Early Printing Collection has many potential applications for undergraduate and graduate courses on campus. Courses in departments like English, History, Art History, Art Studio, Library Science, and others can utilize the collection to study firsthand the history of printing, typography design, and rare books. Plus, with thirty-six separate leaves, there are enough examples for students to work individually or in small groups to closely examine the details of the page and learn about early printing firsthand.


Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

Contact us to learn more about our early printing collection and other examples of early printing from our rare book collection, or to set up an instruction section.

2 thoughts on “The Early Printing Collection: An Introduction

  1. Pingback: The Early Printing Collection: An Introduction | Terrapin Tales

  2. Pingback: Stew of the Month: May 2014 | DigiStew

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s