Workshops, Incunabula Project, University of Cambridge, February 2014

This term Cambridge University Library will be holding two masterclasses as part of the Incunabula Project. The first masterclass, entitled “Incunabula from Bavaria – how to identify provenances and reconstruct 15th-century collections”, will be led by Bettina Wagner, of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.

The German state of Bavaria was not only a region where presses were set up soon after the invention of printing in Mainz, but also the site of some major collections of printed books. Many monasteries and some private owners built up substantial libraries in the 15th century, benefitting from a dense trade network and well-established connections to Italy. However, as a result of auctions and the dissolution of monasteries in the early 19th century, many books from Bavaria were dispersed and have ended up in collections in the UK and other countries. In order to reconstruct these historical collections, painstaking work is necessary. Marks of provenance and bindings have to be documented and identified, and archival records must be analyzed. The masterclass will introduce participants to the techniques and tools used for such research and thus help to place incunabula from the ULC’s collections into the wider context of late mediaeval collection building and book usage. The seminar will be held in the Milstein Seminar Rooms at the Library on Tuesday, 4 February at 2.30 pm.

The second masterclass, entitled “Libri sine asseribus – incunables in early bindings without wooden boards”, will be led by Nicholas Pickwoad, director of the Ligatus Research Centre at the University of the Arts, London. The standard image of the fifteenth-century book is of a large volume with wooden boards covered in white or brown skin, tooled in blind, with metal furniture, clasps and possibly a chain shackle. This is also the book that appears in contemporary painting and sculpture and became so fixed in the popular imagination that it survived as the symbol of the bible in trade signs right through to the eighteenth century, if not beyond. There were, however, other types of binding that were used by the booktrade to give cheap, lightweight protection to books as they moved through the book trade. Whilst not necessarily intended to be temporary, few have survived today and reconstructing their history is difficult. Enough however have come down to us to allow a picture of the rich diversity of binding types used for this purpose to be created and to give an indication of how they were presented to their first owners. This seminar will be held in the Keynes Room at the Library on Tuesday 18 February at 2.30pm .

Both seminars will last approximately 90 minutes, allowing time for questions and discussion. Attendance will be limited in order to allow all attendees a chance to see the books concerned up close, and to participate in the discussion.

To book a place on either seminar, please email


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