Incunabula and Blockbooks

Over 500 fully-digitized books printed in Europe before 1501.

The Bodleian Library houses the largest collection of western incunabula - books printed with movable metal type up to the end of 1500 - in a university library, amounting to more than 5,600 editions in 6,755 copies.

The books themselves are in the classical and vernacular languages, and cover all subjects and disciplines. They range from a copy of the Gutenberg Bible purchased in 1793, and the sumptuous ‘Strozzi copy’ of Pliny’s Natural History in Italian from the bequest of Francis Douce (one of the Library’s principal donors), and both of which have been digitized, to smaller and much-used copies of medieval devotional works and school-texts. Many incunables were acquired from donations or bequests – such as those of Douce, Richard Rawlinson, and Ingram Bywater – whilst many more were purchased by the Library, particularly at the end of the 18th and the in the middle of the 19th centuries.

In addition, the Bodleian’s collections also contain several blockbooks (printed from wooden blocks, on to which the texts and illustrations have been cut). All of the blockbooks, containing biblical and grammatical texts, have now been fully digitized.

The catalogue of the collection as a whole was published in 2005 by OUP, and is also available online. The records include bibliographic, copy-specific and detailed contents information. All Bodleian Libraries incunables and blockbooks have also been reported to the Incunable Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) and Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI).

Many of these items were digitized as part of the Polonksy Foundation Digitization Project.