Book Terminology

What are Incunabula?

Definition and examples of Incunables, Incunabula, Incunable, Incumabulum…

Incunabula (incunabulum, plural incunable or incunabula) are books, pamphlets, or broadsides that were printed in Europe before the year 1501.

The word itself is derived from the Latin word incunabula, which means cradle, or swaddling clothes, referring to the very beginning of the art of publishing. This term first appeared in a Latin pamphlet by Bernhard von Mallinckrodt in 1639.  His phrase “prima typographicae incunabula” means “the first infancy of printing” in reference to any printing done before the year 1500, an arbitrary date chosen by Mallinckrodt.  By the late 1600s, this term was used to describe the physical books from that time period.  A less commonly used term for “incunable” is “fifteener,” referring to the fifteenth century.

You can find incunable and other special collectibles in the Rare Book Room.

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