Skip to Main Content

History of the Early Printed Hebrew Book

General Incunabula

An incunable (plural incunables or incunabula), is a book that was printed using movable metal type before the year 1501 in Europe.  “Incunable” is the anglicized singular form of "incunabula", Latin for "swaddling clothes" or “cradle,” which can refer to “the earliest stages or first traces in the development of anything (OED, 1933, I:188.”  The end date for identifying a printed book as an incunable is convenient but was chosen arbitrarily for it does not reflect any notable developments in the printing process from 1501 onwards.  Even though early printed books were produced in exactly the same style as manuscripts, the process enabled the work to be done more than eight times faster. At the same time, it also resulted in a dramatic reduction in the price of books.  The essential book-length treatment remains Haebler.

Haebler, Konrad
Handbuch der Inkunabelkunde
Leipzig, K. W. Hiersemann, 1925
Katz Center - Reference Room. Z240 .H132 1925

Haebler, Konrad; tr. by Lucy Eugenia Osborne
The Study of Incunabula  
New York: Grolier Club, 1933; New York: Kraus Reprint Corp., 1967
Available locally, Free Library of Philadelphia.  C093 H11
Available locally, Chemical Heritage Foundation.  Z240.A2 H34 1967

Needham, Paul
“Johann Gutenberg and the Catholicon Press,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 76 (1982) 395-456
Van Pelt Library. Z1008 .B51P

Needham, Paul
“The First Quarter Century of European Printing.”  The University of Pennsylvania Libraries A.S.W. Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography for 2013; a series of three lectures presented March 18, 19, and 21, 2013, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania Libraries

Pollak, Michael
“Production Costs in Fifteenth Century Printing,” Library Quarterly 39 (1969) 318-30
Research Annex (LIBRA). Z671 .L713

Wagner, Bettina and Marcia Reed, edd.
Early Printed Books as Material Objects: Proceeding of the Conference Organized by the IFLA Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Munich, 19-21 August 2009
Berlin ; New York : Walter de Gruyter, 2010
Van Pelt Library. Z126 .E27 2010
Rare Book & Manuscript Library Reading Room. Z126 .E27 2010