Incunabula - The Earliest Printed Books

a mediaeval scribe

The Latin word incunabulum (plural incunabula, and often anglicized as incunable) literally means cradle, and more loosely refers to the infancybirthplace or origin of something. It is most often used in reference to early printed books, and in this sense an incunabulum is further defined even more specifically as being a book printed using moveable type prior to the year 1501 AD.

Before the invention of printing using moveable type, books were copied by hand, word for word, letter by letter, by scribes, generally onto parchment or vellum. Obviously, this was an extremely laborious and time-consuming method, and the level of production was minimal — not to mention the potential for errors during transcription. Later, the method of block printing was devised (i.e. in Europe, as this method had been used for centuries in the Orient) wherein the entire text for a page was cut into wood and thus printed, although even this method was rather labour-intensive as well. However, great care was often undertaken in the reproduction of books in both of these ways, and the pages were often subsequently “illuminated” with wonderful illustrations and ornaments. Some of the most beautiful books ever made come from the time before the invention of printing with moveable type, and the first books which were printed using this latter method endeavoured to emulate that beauty and form.

http://www.psymon.com/incunabula/index.html

[cited 6/25/10]

Tags: collage