History of the Book Collection

scanThe history of the book collection at USF illustrates broad concepts in the history of the Western book, beginning with the manuscript era and moving through the invention of the printing press, the mechanization of printing, and the development of the fine press and the artist’s book. The collection is particularly suited to teaching and illustrating overarching concepts in the development of European book production. The collection includes resources for four main epochs in European and American book history: illuminated manuscripts, incunabula, the hand press era, and the machine press period.

The collection of illuminated manuscripts includes individual leaves that illustrate different types of calligraphic hands and illumination, most dating from the medieval period. Highlights of the collection include a complete Carthusian missal, an English indenture with original wax seal, an Ethiopian prayer book, as well as an Islamic manuscript with a contemporaneous binding. The collection also includes two leaf books that consist of individual manuscript leaves. For more information on medieval manuscripts, see the Sacred Leaves Digital Collection »

Incunabula holdings focus on early printing in Germany and include the Leutolphum, a book printed by Anton Koberger, producer of the famous Nuremberg Chronicle. In addition to German incunabula, the collection also includes a number of Aldine Press titles as well as facsimiles and reference works that highlight early printing developments in Italy, France, and England. The collection also include a leaf book of Italian incunabula.

Highlights of books from the hand press period illustrate the rapid developments in book illustration that occurred in the 16-18th centuries, and many feature hand coloring. Botanicals, natural histories, and travel books are particularly well represented and include prints by Catesby and Michael Boym.

The Industrial Revolution had an enormous impact on the history of printing, leading to the development of the iron press and then the rotary press, the mechanization of paper production, and stereotyping. While the collection includes some of the lovely books produced during the machine press period, such as Audubon’s The Quadrupeds of North America, it features titles that illustrate the increasingly rapid and inexpensive publishing methods. Included are annuals and story papers, novels by authors such as Charles Dickens in their original parts, and representative examples of 19th-century literature and history.