These six blockbooks and three fragments of blockbooks survive in Oxford collections. Eight are from Bodleian Library collections while a fragment of a blockbook of the Passion of Christ is from the Ashmolean Museum.
Most contain religious texts, including different editions of a picture-book based on the Apocalypse of St. John and the Biblia Pauperum, a typological juxtaposition of images from the old and new testament. A Latin school-book, the fragment of an Ulm edition of Donatus's Ars minor, is the only secular blockbook in the group.
The production of blockbooks was different from the printing of books with movable metal type ('typography'). Movable type enabled printers in 15th-century Europe to produce a new book every few months. However this meant that all copies of a book had to be printed at the same time, before the type was re-used for another book. In contrast, the woodblocks used to print each double opening of a blockbook could be preserved for a longer period. Books could be printed long after the woodblocks were first incised. An example is the Apocalypse, reference number BB-1, in this collection.
Blockbooks were treasured by early collectors curious about the origins of printing in Europe. Detailed descriptions provided here by Professor Nigel Palmer show how examination of the woodblocks and paper used, the colouring of the pictures and the arrangement of the pages still give insights into the early history of the printed book.