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Leaf from Gutenberg's Catholicon, 1460, inserted into the backboard of Margaret Bingham Stillwell's Gutenberg and the Catholicon of 1460, 1936.

Gutenberg and the Catholicon of 1460. A bibliographical essay by Margaret Bingham Stillwell. Together with an original leaf of the Catholicon.

New York : Edmond Byrne Hackett, the Brick Row Book Shop, Inc., 1936

Checklist 70

Collection of Michael Thompson

It is believed that the Catholicon of Johannes Balbus was first printed in 1460 by Johann Gutenberg. Although the colophon does not identify Gutenberg by name, scholars have long connected him with the book, and this association has made the Catholicon both a very desirable item for collectors and an attractive subject for a leaf book. While A. Edward Newton, who wrote the essay accompanying the leaf of the Gutenberg Bible for A Noble Fragment (cat. 7), was by no means a scholar of incunabula, Margaret Bingham Stillwell, who authored the accompanying essay here, was a prominent figure in the field. At the time she was approached to write the essay, Stillwell was librarian at the Annmary Brown Memorial in Providence , Rhode Island , and she was working on a second census of incunabula in the United States , to replace the badly outdated first census, published in 1919. Her extensive essay for Gutenberg and the Catholicon of 1460 , which includes a current census of copies of the Catholicon , is far more bibliographically detailed than most other essays included in leaf books, but there was still much to discover, and a great deal remains unknown about the Catholicon today.

In Librarians Are Human: Memories In and Out of the Book World 1907–1970 (Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1970), Stillwell described her involvement with the Catholicon leaf book and the circumstances of its publication:

 

Mr. Hackett, it seems, had come upon a fragment of the Catholicon of 1460 — a Latin glossary, the first printed book to state the date and place of its printing, and one of the controversial books ascribed to Gutenberg himself. The extant leaves of Mr. Hackett's copy were in excellent condition; but relatively few had survived the passing centuries, too few to be considered as a book. The international celebration of the invention of printing was scheduled for 1940, little more than five years away. Mr. Hackett's idea was to produce a handsome volume relating to Gutenberg, each copy of which should have on the inside of the back cover a well, or pocket, containing one or two of the original leaves of the 1460 Catholicon .

This work Mr. Hackett planned to offer to libraries throughout the country, well in advance of the anniversary. His idea was that armed with this book the librarians, in planning and setting up their exhibitions in honor Gutenberg, would be able to display a handsome book about him, together with one or two original leaves from a book frequently assigned to Gutenberg's press. . . .

The volume was published as a tall folio, to accommodate the height of the Catholicon 's pages. Mr. Hackett, having set out to honor Gutenberg with a handsome volume, certainly did himself proud. As matters worked out, he issued not only a “Library edition” bound in full crimson buckram embellished in goldleaf, but a “Collector's edition” in full antique calf, tooled on both covers with a design copied from the covers of an early printed book and with the title resplendent in tooled goldleaf. When the time came for the anniversary celebration, the editions had long since been sold out.

 

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