Making the Book


  Manuscript to print        Materials and Bindings        Illustration

Manuscript to print

The earliest printed books were modeled on the manuscript volumes of the time. Many of the features that we regard today as essential to the intellectual structures of books, such as title pages, publication information, pagination, running heads, tables of contents, and indexes, had been used only intermittently in manuscripts. During the late fifteenth century printers gradually adopted these aids to reading, so that by the early sixteenth century the modern book had taken shape.

On exhibition are two copies of Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend, a highly popular compilation of stories of the lives of the saints.

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Jacobus de Voragine.
Legenda aurea.

Manuscript, written in France in the first
half of the 14th century.

From the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Collection.

Jacobus de Voragine.
Legenda aurea sanctorum.

Nuremberg: Georg Stuchs de Sulczpach, October 1488.
From the Bryn Mawr College Library's Collections.

On the left is a 14th century French manuscript and on the right is a late 15th century edition printed in Germany. The books show some of the similarities of the two forms, as well as the changes beginning to take place in printed books. The volumes have a similar appearance, with gothic lettering in double columns, large decorated initial letters to set off paragraphs, and no title pages or other introductory material. Unlike the manuscript, though, the printed book has numbered folios (the manuscript's page numbers are a later addition) and a table of contents at the back to help the reader locate particular stories. Both the manuscript version and the printed book are open to the section regarding Saint Barnabus.


Johann Gensfleisch zum Gutenberg (1397?-1468) was one of a number of people who experimented with methods for mechanizing book production in the mid-fifteenth century. Woodblock prints were already in use by the early 1400s, but since they required a separately carved block for each page, they were used primarily for pictures and captions, not for texts. Small devotional works, known as "block books," were printed in this way. Gutenberg's breakthrough was the development of a practical method for making movable metal type that could be used repeatedly in different combinations to print each page. Gutenberg started his printing firm by borrowing money from Johann Fust (1400-1466), but was never able to repay the loan. After printing the Bible, Gutenberg was forced to give up the equipment to Fust, who thereupon began his own printing business with his son-in-law Peter Schöffer (1425-1502), one of Gutenberg's former employees. There are no other printed books that can definitively be attributed to Gutenberg, although it is probable that he printed an edition of Balbi's Catholicon in 1460.

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A leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, Book of Jude.
Mainz: Johann Gutenberg, ca. 1454-1455,
not after August 1456.

Gift of Margaret McKelvy Bird, '31.

Shown here is a page from the first Western book printed with movable type, which was also known as the "42-Line Bible" after the number of lines that were printed on each page. The Bible used a textura font based on a gothic hand and had no title page and no printed page numbers. Some of the books were printed on vellum and some on paper. The Latin text was from the Vulgate version of the Bible prepared by Saint Jerome.


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De evangelica praeparatione.

Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1470.
Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.

The earliest books were printed in gothic typefaces that were based upon the dominant handwriting forms of the late Middle Ages. For an edition of Cicero's letters and this edition of Eusebius, Nicolaus Jenson produced the first true Roman typeface, in imitation of the humanistic hand developed by Poggio Bracciolini and his associates in the early fifteenth century. Although Jenson himself continued to use gothic typefaces for most of his books, other printers in Italy soon adopted the Roman typeface for most Italian and classical writings. By the mid-16th century, the gothic typefaces were becoming increasingly rare throughout western Europe, although they continued to be used for the Germanic languages into the twentieth century. The typeface gives Jenson's work a modern appearance, but this early printed book has much in common with manuscript texts. It lacks a title page, pagination, and running heads on the pages, and has red rubricated headings and spaces for large capitals. Publication information is supplied in a colophon, or notation at the end of the book, which in this case is in the form of a poem. Jenson, a Frenchman, was one of the first printers to set up shop in Venice, the city that would eventually come to dominate printing in Italy.


The printing of music posed considerable technical problems since ways had to be found to superimpose notes and bar lines on the staff lines, to print open and closed notes, and to link notes together. Some printers solved these problems by printing the text and having a scribe add all of the music; others printed the staves and had a scribe add the notes; and still others printed the notes and had a scribe add the staves.

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Franchinus Gaffurius.
Practica musicae.
Milan: Guillermus Le Signerre, for Johannes
Petrus de Lomatio, 30 September 1496.

Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.

Fragment of manuscript hymnal.
Flanders, late fifteenth century.

Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.

The Practica musicae was one of the first books in which the music was printed from woodcut blocks, and it is considered a masterpiece of the form. The author of the book, Franchinus Gaffurius (1451-1522), was a priest at the Milan Cathedral and directed a school where he trained musicians and taught music theory. Practica musicae is one of several music theory works he published in the 1490s. Also shown is a sheet of manuscript music from a late fifteenth century hymnal for comparison with the printed music. Because of the continuing difficulty of printing music, most music circulated in manuscript form into the eighteenth century.

Materials and Bindings


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Poggio Bracciolini.
De miseria conditionis humanae.
Manuscript, written in Italy during the
second half of the 15th century.

Gift of Phyllis Goodhart Gordan '35.

Illuminated manuscripts are the most frequently exhibited manuscript books, but working volumes such as this one were much more common. The reading public had grown large enough by the early fifteenth century that the work of copying books had become a significant industry, producing books for everyday use as well as for institutional libraries. This book, written by a single scribe in a humanistic cursive hand, was made to be used by a scholar as a study text, and so it contains few decorations. The text is laid out in one column per page, without page numbers, and each page has readers' notes in both margins. De miseria conditionis humanae was written late in life by the Italian humanist Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459), a leader in the humanist project of recovering and correcting the writings of classical antiquity. Poggio was the special focus of research by Phyllis Goodhart Gordan, Bryn Mawr Class of 1935.

This book is the only manuscript in the exhibition written on paper, rather than parchment. Parchment, a specially-prepared animal skin, had supplanted papyrus as the principal writing medium in Europe during the last centuries of the Roman Empire, and it continued to be in demand, particularly for luxury books, long after the introduction of paper in the twelfth century. Once it began to be produced commercially, rag-based paper was considerably cheaper than parchment and so it was used for relatively inexpensive working texts, such as this book. Paper became the dominant medium for books with the advent of printing since it offered an even and absorbent surface for the impressions, and was available in much larger quantities than was parchment.


Many of Bryn Mawr's fifteenth century books are still in the leather and board bindings placed on them by their first owners. The best bindings serve the functional purpose of holding the book's pages together and protecting them from damage, and are also examples of the extraordinary artistry and craftsmanship of the period.

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Venice: Aldus Manutius, April 1502.

Gift of W. V. Kellen.

The binding on this volume shows the artistry of Italian bookbinders, the finest in Europe, at the close of the fifteenth century. It is bound in goatskin over pasteboards and makes lavish use of gold tooling, suggesting that it was commissioned by a wealthy owner. Gold tooling was first practiced in the Middle East, and arrived in Italy during the mid-fifteenth century. The process has multiple stages and its use requires great skill. The binder must first create an overall design on the leather cover using hand tools. Egg glaire, the run-off from beaten egg white, is applied to the completed design to serve as an adhesive, and then a second impression is made through gold foil onto the cover, striking the first designs as precisely as possible.


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John Duns Scotus.
Quaestiones in Universalia Porphyrii.
Venice: Reynoldus de Novimagio and Theodorus
de Reynsburch, not after 1479.

Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.

Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Orationes Philippicae cum enarrationibus
Francisci Maturanti.

Vicenza: 1488.

Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.

In contrast with the more elaborate bindings, these two bindings are relatively plain. They are half bound in goatskin over beech boards. A brass retaining strip with star-shaped nails secures the leather to the boards, an economical treatment typical of bindings commissioned for frequent scholarly use. In the usual Italian style, the book clasps fasten from the front of the volume catching on the back, the opposite of Germanic binding practice.

The volume of Cicero, although respined at a later date, shows remnants of early blind tooling, that is, impressions made in the leather, done with heated hand stamps and fillets. Use of four clasps was common for larger volumes at this time.


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Johannes Marchesinus.
Mammotrectus super Bibliam.
Venice: Franciscus Renner, de Heilbronn and
Nicholaus de Frankfordia, 1476.

Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.

Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.
De civitate Dei. In Italian.
Venice?: Antonio di Bartolommeo, not
after 1483.

Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.

The Marchesinus is an example of a Paduan binding, and it has an elaborate knotwork design made up of individual, hand-stamped elements. This exacting work demanded great skill and patience, and is typical of much Italian binding during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Originally, this volume would have been stored horizontally on a bookshelf. The brass bosses protected the covers from wear.

The volume of Saint Augustine's writings on the right also shows the skill of Italian bookbinders. A series of rectangular frames is executed with hand stamps and fillets. The back cover is shown, with two Italian trefoil catch plates.


The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, or "Poliphilo's strife of love in a dream," is the most famous and beautiful of the books printed by Aldus Manutius, but it was also an unusual piece, very much out of keeping with the works of classical antiquity on which Aldus built his reputation. This erotic, allegorical novel, probably written by Francesco Colonna (d.1527), a Dominican monk, tells of Poliphilo's dream in which he searches for, catches, and finally loses his love, Polia. The book's reputation is not based on the dense and confusing story, but instead on the artistry that went into the book's construction. The book is beautifully illustrated with 174 woodcuts in a classical style. (The woodcuts are now thought to have been the work of the Venetian artist Benedetto Bordon.) Unlike most illustrated books of the time, the woodcuts are closely tied to the text. The book shows one of Aldus's earliest uses of a clean Roman typeface done by Francesco Griffo, who also designed the italic type that Aldus would later use in his editions of the Latin classics.

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Francesco Colonna.
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1499.

Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.


Leonhardt Fuchs's commentary on plants was a milestone in the history of science, for it was the first illustrated botanical work in which the pictures were drawn from life and intended to accurately represent the plant described in the text.

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Leonhardt Fuchs.
De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, maximis
impensis et vigiliis elaborati, adjectis earundem vivis
plusquam quingentis imaginibus.

Basel: In Officina Isingriniana, 1542.

Gift of Marion Brown Sprague, '29.

Illustrated botanical books were nothing new in the mid-sixteenth century. The first had been published in the mid-1480s, and new books appeared regularly throughout the early sixteenth century. Unlike the illustrations in Fuchs, the earlier ones were stylized and showed little knowledge of the actual plants. In many cases, a single woodcut was used for more than one plant. Fuchs (1501-1566), a member of the medical faculty at Tübingen and a follower of the ancient Greek medical writer Galen, was interested in the potential medicinal value of plants, and so insisted that his book include illustrations that could help the reader identify real plants. An interesting and unusual feature of the book is the visual credit Fuchs gave to the artists responsible for the illustrations, Albrecht Meyer, the painter; Heinrich Füllmaurer, who copied the drawings onto the woodblocks; and Veit Rudolf Speckle, who cut the blocks:

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Meyer also oversaw the coloring of the woodblock prints in some copies of the book, although the ones in this copy were probably done at a later date.


Printing opened up new opportunities for artists as well as writers. The public demand for illustrated books meant that publishers like Anton Koberger, who were in constant need of woodcuts, provided an important stream of revenues for artists' shops, like the one of Wolgemut and Pleydenwurff. These shops also produced woodcuts for individual sale, since the prints were an affordable form of art for members of the middle class. The most successful of the woodcut artists was Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) of Nuremberg.

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Albrecht Dürer.
Epitome in Divi Parthenices Mariae Historiam.
Germany, ca. 1590.

Gift of Helena Simkhovitch, '24.

Dürer was already well-known as an artist when his set of woodcuts on the life of Mary was printed in Nuremberg in 1511 by Heironymous Hölzel, together with two other series of woodcuts, one on the passion of Christ, and the other on the Apocalypse. The life of Mary was originally accompanied by poems in Latin by Benedictus Chelidonius, and the set was sold as a book. The copy shown consists of prints pulled from Dürer's original woodblocks at the end of the sixteenth century, and it does not include either the text or the title page used in the original.


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Hartmann Schedel
Liber chronicarum.
Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 12 July 1493.

Gift of Ethelinda Schaefer Castle '08.

This history of the world, popularly known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, was the most heavily illustrated work of the fifteenth century, with more than 1800 woodcuts showing biblical scenes, major European cities, maps of Europe and the world, and hundreds of popes, emperors, kings, philosophers, figures from classical mythology, and, of course, from the Bible. The illustrations were done in the Nuremberg workshops of Michael Wolgemut and his son-in-law, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff. A teen-aged Albrecht Dürer was one of Wolgemut's apprentices and may have participated in the work during the early years of production on the book.

Whereas most illustrated books of the time used woodcuts as supplements to the text, the Nuremberg Chronicle was planned from the first to be a marriage of words and pictures. It is not known who conceived the idea for the book, but the first contracts for it were drawn up in 1487 between the Nuremberg businessmen who financed the project, led by the publisher Anton Koberger, and Wolgemut and Pleydenwurff. When the accounts were settled in 1509, the artists split the profits with the financiers. Schedel (1440-1514), a noted Nuremberg scholar, was probably recruited to write the text at a later date, and most of his text was drawn from earlier chronicles, particularly Jacopo da Bergamo's Supplementum Chronicarum. The book was first issued in Latin, and then in a German translation in December 1493. Koberger printed approximately 2500 copies between the two editions, an extraordinary number at a time when most print runs were in the range of 200 to 500 copies.

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Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections. February 22 - June 1, 2001