What are Incunabula?

Herbarius zu teütsch unnd von allderhandt kreuteren, offered by Martayan Lan
Quadragesimale di filio prodigo, offered by D & E Lake Ltd. (ABAC, ILAB)

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 1600’s, 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 Biblio.com Rare Book Room.

Click any of the Incunable images to view their full descriptions on Biblio.com!

This entry was written by and posted on July 14, 2011 at 1:45 pm, filed under Book Terminology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink

3 Responses to “What are Incunabula?”

  1. H. Schmidlapp

    This ia a plural noun, so “What ARE incunabula?” or “What IS an incunable?” You can’t make good posts on scholarly matters with poor grammar. You also state in the same post that incunables are books printed before 1501

  2. Chris Arnison

    So the headline is wrong – it should be ‘what are incunabula?’


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