BOOKBINDINGS ON INCUNABLES, THE SCOTT HUSBY DATABASE AT PRINCETON UNIVERSITY LIBRARY records the bindings preserved on 15th-century printed books in selected North American research libraries. In 1999, Scott Husby, now-retired rare book conservator at Princeton University, compiled a photographic and descriptive record of the bindings on incunables at Princeton. Motivated to enhance the often incomplete information about bindings found in library catalogue entries, Husby began to study incunable copies in other libraries, entering his findings into an electronic database (the dates of Husby's surveys are recorded in the 'Collections' index link). To date, his ongoing database contains more than 27,000 records of bindings preserved in some 30 institutions, which now has been made searchable, with digital images, by Princeton University Library. It is hoped that other 15th-century binding collections can be added to this work in progress.

The initial intent of the project was to identify those incunables that retain their late-Gothic (15th- or early 16th-century) bindings, identified in the database by the term 'Early.' Locating and identifying these bindings significantly enhances our knowledge of the early printed book market. Since most incunables were bound at locations other than where they were printed, early bindings constitute some of our best evidence of their original distribution and use. However, rebinding became so common that only about 20% of incunables in U.S. libraries retain truly early bindings. Thus, it became apparent that an exclusive focus on early bindings would overlook valuable information about incunable collecting, the history of libraries, and the lives of these books over time. Husby's database therefore includes later rebindings, identified as 'Later' (mid-16th to early 19th century) or 'Modern' (early 19th century to the present). Investigators with specialized interests and expertise are invited to delve into further research about these later bindings.

Early bindery locations are assigned primarily on the basis of the decorative stamping of the book covers. For German bindings (including examples from Austria, Switzerland, Strassburg, and sometimes even Bohemia), resources produced by Ernst Kyriss, the Schwenke-Schunke Sammlung, and Einbanddatenbank (EBDB) are cited, while studies by Basil Oldham, Strickland Gibson, G.D. Hobson, and others provide data on English bindings. Naturally, the Husby database does not focus exclusively on decorative stamps: the compiler's experience as a bookbinder and conservator led him to record numerous features that inform the 'archaeology' of the book, such as sewing structures, endbands, board treatment, binding waste, clasps, and other hardware. His photographic documentation also records hand-decoration of texts and other evidence for provenance, mainly as invitations to further research.

The vast majority of the editions in the database are identified by the enumerated author-title system employed by Frederick Goff in Incunabula in American Libraries (1964); editions 'Not in Goff' may be found in the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) or the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC). Institutional catalogues can provide additional copy-specific information that is beyond the scope of this project.

Caveats and Confessions
A Note from Scott Husby

This illustrated database of bindings on incunables offers, in essence, a peek inside a researcher's notebook - a work in progress. The database is by no means intended to function as a formal catalogue of incunables. It is much less ambitious, focused strictly on bindings and a few other copy-specific details that might inform the history of bindings. Users in need of more complete bibliographical information about the editions are urged to consult the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC), the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW), and the published and/or online catalogues of the individual holding institutions.

When I began recording bookbindings on incunables in U.S. libraries in 1999, I was blissfully ignorant of many of the problems and complexities that would arise. The database, a matter of personal interest, did not commence with the benefit of advice of experts or the guidance of a steering committee that might have raised questions and helped avoid some of the shortcomings of the project. Thus, users may come across blank fields in individual records. Sometimes during my visits to various libraries, certain information was not readily available, or, forced to work quickly, I left certain details incomplete. Completing these records will be an ongoing task for the future.

There were many aspects of these books that I did not realize would be encountered over and over, and it was only after studying a few thousand incunables in several libraries that I began to record several important features. Therefore, some details are more consistently recorded for libraries that were added later in the project. For example, I soon realized that the recurring word 'Duplum,' written in an elegant cursive hand on the front pastedown or first flyleaf, indicates a duplicate holding of the Royal Library in Munich, deaccessioned in one of several 19th-century sales. As a result, such provenance data is not entered consistently in the database.

One of my biggest regrets is that I did not establish from the outset a consistent method for recording Sammelbände and multi-volume sets. With respect to Sammelbände, a library holding an incunable with, for example, four incunable texts bound together, will generally have a separate catalogue record for each text. The same will be reflected in Goff or ISTC, and that library will be shown to have four distinct incunables. If I had followed this approach, then I would have created a record for each incunable within any bound volume. Instead I have tried to indicate occurrences of Sammelbände, but have produced only a single record for the entire volume. At present, the database includes 1,177 Sammelbände. Unfortunately, it is only by looking through each record in which 'bound with' is indicated that one may determine approximately how many additional incunable texts are represented in the database. If each Sammelband contained (say) three incunable texts, then there would be something like 2,354 more incunables to add to the database - but no additional bindings.

Multi-volume sets present a similar problem. A number of incunable editions were printed in sets of several volumes, occasionally as many as six or more. For example, in 1498 Johann Froben and Johann Petri in Basel printed a six-volume Bible (Goff B-609). I have recorded several copies of B-609; one is at the Bridwell Library in Dallas. The texts of all six volumes are decorated in the same style, and all six volumes have similar bindings made in Heilsbronn (Kyriss 12, EBDB w000098). The Thacher Collection at the Library of Congress also has a six-volume set of B-609. Again, all six volumes have consistent scribal decoration and all were bound in the Benedictine monastery of St. Stephan in Würzburg (Kyriss 37, EBDB w000063). Thus, we have here two incunables but 12 early bindings.

But consider the special case of the Summa theologica of St. Antoninus of Florence, printed in Nuremberg by Anton Koberger during the years 1477-1479 (Goff A-871), held by the Free Library in Philadelphia. Although this Imperial folio usually consists of four volumes (as does Princeton University's copy, decorated and bound in Augsburg, Kyriss 80, EBDB w002141), the Free Library has five 'volumes' of this edition: vols. 1, 2, and 3, bound by Nicolaus von Havelberg of Erfurt (Kyriss 47, EBDB w000072), but also a second copy of vol. 1, decorated and bound in Augsburg (EBDB w002482), and a second copy of vol. 2, bound by the Premonstratensians at Windberg (EBDB w002305). Thus, the Free Library actually has three incomplete copies of A-871. Similarly, Cornell University Library has vols. 1, 2, and 3 featuring consistent scribal work, bound in related but unidentified early bindings, each with the early ownership inscription of the Franciscans at Hilsen, but vol. 4, very differently bound and rubricated, bears an early inscription from Glogau. Thus, Cornell's 'complete' set of all four volumes of A-871 is made up from two incomplete copies. I regret that I did not anticipate the problems that arise with respect to this issue. It may be fine to have entered the Princeton copy of A-871 as a single record (with an indication that it includes four related early bindings), but Cornell really should have two records, while the Free Library should have three records, reflecting not only its three (incomplete) copies, but its three varieties of bindings. This raises a question for census-makers: could the fourth volume of A-871 bound by Havelberg in Erfurt survive in some other library?


The great majority of the photographs in this website have been taken by myself, and are offered here with the permission of the participating libraries and institutions. These images are rarely up to professional standards, since the images were taken for research purposes rather than for publication. I am grateful to all the libraries that have made this valuable visual resource available.

A fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities provided important funding in the early stages of this project. My appreciation goes to the Bibliographical Society of America, the Huntington Fellowship Committee, the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University, the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for providing fellowships that made important additions possible. A grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation also offered welcome support. Finally, the Davies Project at Princeton University has not only provided funds for the development of this online database, but has served as a crucial underpinning all along the way. I thank the university and my colleagues there for allowing me time to pursue this work along with my regular duties. I also wish to thank the curators and reading room staff of every collection included in this endeavor. You have made my research hours in your libraries both pleasant and productive.

I have benefited from the interest and encouragement of many individuals as I have worked on this project, and I regret that I cannot thank everyone singly. I do need to make a few specific acknowledgments, however. This endeavor may never have started had not Steve Ferguson at Princeton opened the doors and allowed the first faltering steps of the census to be taken. I greatly value the contact I have had with Paul Needham, whose range and depth of knowledge about early-printed books is remarkable. Sincere appreciation goes to John Bidwell at the Morgan Library, who has been a supportive, encouraging, and informed voice throughout. Eric White's knowledgeable contributions and generous spirit were key for my work at the Bridwell Library, and Bill Stoneman thoughtfully paved the way for working through the incunables at the Houghton Library. My thanks to Alan Jutzi and Steve Tabor for making it possible to push this census forward in a major way with the inclusion of the Huntington Library collection.

From 2007 to May 2018, this project benefited from an internet presence provided through BibSite, the online resources of the Bibliographical Society of America. I must thank the society for hosting my work. The time has come, however, for a much-expanded online offering that is both searchable and more fully illustrated with overall views, details, and rubbings of the early bindings. This new online version was developed by David L. Herrington, Senior Manager of Web Application Services, and James K. Chu, Lead Developer, in Princeton University's Academic Technology Services, Office of Information Technology. Finally, I am most grateful to Steve Ferguson, for offering to host this expanded incarnation of the census at Princeton University, and to Eric White, who, beginning in 2016, spearheaded the effort and shepherded the project along during its final stages.

Grand Marais, Minnesota
May 2018