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Rare Book Division

Rare Book Division
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
Curator of Rare Books

Location designators: ExI, Kane, GA, WHS, and RHT.

There are three major groupings of incunabula in the Library: I. The General Collection (ExI) II. Kane Collection and III. The Scheide Library. For details about holdings of of incunabula in the Princeton University Library, see the checked copy of Goff's incunabula bibliography. See: Frederick R. Goff. Incunabula in American Libraries. Third Census. (New York, 1964) [(ExB) 0225.398].

The earliest recorded gift of an incunable to Princeton is inscribed "Presented to the Library of the College of New Jersey. O. Rich. London, Dec 15, 1840." Obadiah Rich (1783-1850), bookseller in London and former U. S. consul in Spain, gave a copy of the Sermones of Petrus de Palude, printed in Basel in 1485 (Goff P-511). The earliest recorded count of incunables at Princeton was reported in 1902. The number given was 88, as compared to 132 at Cornell, 136 at Columbia, and 257 at Harvard. The 1902 report also noted that incunable collections larger than any university collection were found at New York Public, Union Theological Seminary, and the Free Library of Philadelphia. (See: [John Thomson], "Report on Incunabula List," in Papers and Proceedings of the Twenty-Fourth General Meeting of the American Library Assocation held at Boston and Magnolia, Mass., June 14-20, 1902, page 153).

The University owns about 500 incunabula (books printed 1450-1500); in addition, there are about 250 in the Scheide Library (privately held but accessible to University and other scholars.) According to Goff, Princeton ranks twenty-fifth among the twenty-five largest collections of incunabula in American libraries. Moreover, "these twenty-five libraries account for almost seventy per cent of the total number recorded in American ownership."

General collection of incunabula:

The general collection includes all Vergil and Horace incunables held by the Library, 51 and 11 respectively. The general collection consists mainly of literary, philosophical and religious works; there are five copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle.

Together with the Kane Collection, the general collection has nearly 500 books printed in 36 separate locations. The localities are: Belgium (Antwerp, Brussels); England (London, including Westminster); France (Lyons, Paris, Strasbourg); Germany (Augsburg, Cologne, Freiburg, Hagenau, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Mainz, Memmingen, Nuremberg, Speier, Ulm); Italy (Bologna, Brescia, Ferrara, Florence, Foligno, Messina, Milan, Padua, Parma, Reggio nell' Emilia, Rome, Treviso, Venice, Verona, Vicenza); Netherlands (Deventer); Spain (Salamanca, Seville); Switzerland (Basel).

By far the greatest number of incunabula in the general collection are those printed in Italy. For particulars refer to: Princeton University Library. Early Printing in Italy. . .1469-1517 [with an essay by John F. Peckham]. (Princeton, 1940) [(Ex) P51.74.72 and (F) 0246.737].

Also to be noted: Robert A. Koch, "Florentine Incunabula" in the Princeton University Library Chronicle XIV, 3 (Spring, 1953) pp. 157-160 [full text].  Koch describes five Florentine woodcut books printed during the 1490's. The books were presented by a group of 21 Friends of the Library during the academic year 1952-53. Also see study covering provenance and annotations in the Library's incunabula prepared by Sarah Reichart in 1987-88. Copy in Collections File under Incunabula.

Kane Collection:

Through the acquisition of the Grenville Kane collection, Princeton University Library has notably strengthened its holdings in printed works of the 15th century. (Princeton was already noted for its rich resources amongst the earliest editions of Vergil and Horace.)

Some of the first illustrated books of the 15th century are included in this collection. The Kane illustrated incunabula are some of the finest of the 15th-century examples of Italian, French, German, and Swiss work. It also includes four tracts printed between 1495 and 1497 in Florence having to do with Savonarola's activities.

Refer to: Curt F. Buhler, "The Incunabula of the Grenville Kane Collection" in the Princeton University Library Chronicle XI, 1 (Autumn, 1949) pp. 26-36 [full text] . This article describes in some detail the more significant of the 105 incunabula from Kane's collection, including provenance, dates, and particular titles.

— Note about bindings in the Kane and General collections.
Scott Husby is conducting a census of bindings on incunables held by major libraries in the United States. Mr. Husby reports the following about the bindings on Princeton's incunables in the Kane and General Collections:

        Contemporary    102
        Contemporary interim    4
        Later Significant       71
        Modern Significant      23

Of the contemporary bindings, initial regional identifications are:

        German 74
        Italian 15
        French  3
        English 5
        Spanish 0
        Low Countries 0
        Other 0
        Undetermined 5

*Graphic Arts and The Taylor Collection. Incunabula once held in those collections are now classed with ExI.