A catalogue of the fifteenth-century printed books in the Library of the University of Glasgow

Compiled by Jack Baldwin

Web version designed by Julie Gardham and maintained by Robert Maclean.


1.  Acquisition of the incunabula by the University of Glasgow (provisional)

One of the richest rare book collections in the UK outside London, Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester, the University of Glasgow Library has in total 1034 books printed before 1501. In addition, the collections contain a further 26 books often assigned to the 15th century in early catalogues of incunabula but now in the light of modern bibliographical scholarship considered to be printed after 1500 (they are included in the main body of the present catalogue and are also separately listed in an Appendix of post-1500 books).  The University Library’s incunabula (and post-incunabula) collections do contain a number of duplicate and triplicate copies and the actual number of discrete editions described in the catalogue is 964. 

There is not much evidence to show the Library in its early days as a prolific purchaser of 15th-century editions.  A detailed manuscript catalogue ‘Catalogus librorum Bibliothecae Universitatis Glasguensis anno 1691’, which was prepared in 1691 but with additions continuing into the first decade of the 18th century, shows that what is now called the ‘Old Library’ had acquired 45 incunabula by the turn of the 17th century;  some of these came in by gift or by bequest rather than by purchase e.g. George Buchanan’s donation in 1578 of copies of  Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica (Florence:  1496) and Aristophanes, Comediae novem (Venice:  1498).   The next catalogue of the Library - a printed catalogue - Archibald Arthur’s ‘Catalogus impressorum librorum in Bibliotheca Universitatis Glasguensis’ (Glasguae:  1791) shows the number of 15th-century editions in the Library’s collections had increased to 81.

A modest number then by the end of the 18th century. The first decade of the 19th century saw a fundamental change in fortunes.  In 1807 the University received, by bequest, the library of some 10,000 volumes of the collector, physician and anatomist, William Hunter (1718-1783).  Hunter was an avid collector of manuscripts and fine printing and his library included some 538 15th-century printed books, including two blockbooks (an Apocalypse and a Biblia pauperum) and three unique incunabula (Fiore novello es tratto dalla Bibbia, [Venice? n. pr.], 20 Aug. 1473, The miracles of Our Lady, Westminster: Wynkyn de Worde [ca. 1496] and The art and craft to know to well to die, [London]: Richard Pynson, [ca. 1495]). The earliest printed book from moveable type in Hunter’s library is the Fust and Schoeffer edition of Cicero’s De officiis (Mainz: 1465) – one of 25 15th-century editions of Cicero in his collection.  Many of Hunter’s incunabula were bought at auction and a good number of his purchases can be traced, with their prices, in surviving copies of annotated London saleroom catalogues: Savage sale, 1763; Dormer sale, 1764;  Letherland sale, 1765;  Baber sale, 1766;  Anonymous sale, 1771;  Pemberton & Wilson sale, 1772;  Consul Smith sale, 1773;  West sale, 1773;  Askew sale, 1775;  Jekyl sale, 1775;  De Missy sale, 1776;  Ratcliffe sale, 1776;  Hoblyn sale, 1778;  Wilson sale, 1778;  Morin d’Hérouville sale, 1780.  Hunter also bought at continental auctions: the Duc de la Vallière sale (Paris 1767) - through his agent, Jean-Baptiste Dessain; Pieter Burmann, the Younger, sale (Leyden, 1769).  Hunter’s highest single expenditure on incunabula was at the sale of the library of Louis Jean Gaignat, Secretary to King Louis XV, whose library was auctioned in Paris in 1769.  At that sale Hunter, through his agent, Jean-Baptiste Dessain, came away with no less than 187 incunabula (costing him almost 15,000 livres).  A year later, in 1770 - though on a lesser scale - Hunter  was a purchaser at the Duc de Brancas de Lauraguais sale in Paris via his agent, Peter Molini.  Somewhat confusingly - since they have no connection with William Hunter’s original collection - 12 incunabula were added to the Hunterian Library in 1852, the gift of Miss Marjorie Ettles of Stirling from the library of her late brother-in-law, Ebenezer Brown, M.D., a Glasgow graduate.

The 19th century saw the influx of three important collections, which between them added a further 200 or so incunabula:

William Euing (1788-1874), Glasgow insurance broker.
Euing gifted 98 incunabula to the University Library in 1872 and a further 63 were received in 1874 as part of the Euing bequest of 12,000 volumes of general literature and 3,000 bibles, psalters and books of prayer and hymns.  Seven more incunabula once owned by Euing came into the University Library in 1936 when ownership of the Euing Music Library of some 2,500 volumes of early printed music - which Euing had bequeathed to another Glasgow educational institution, Anderson’s College (now the University of Strathclyde) - was transferred to the University of Glasgow. Euing was also a benefactor to the library of the Free Church College in Glasgow (later Trinity College Library) and during his lifetime he presented the College with 11 incunabula. These were transferred to the University Library in 1974 when several thousand books from Trinity College were placed on permanent deposit in the University Library (see below). This brings the total number of William Euing’s incunabula now in the University Library to 179. Euing was also a generous donor of incunabula to a fourth Glasgow institution, Stirling’s Library i.e. the library founded in 1791 by Walter Stirling as “a public library for the use of the citizens of Glasgow”, which since 1912 when it was taken over by Glasgow Corporation has been administered by the city’s Mitchell Library. The 30 incunabula which Euing donated to Stirling’s Library are recorded in the Catalogue of incunabula and S.T.C. books in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow [compiled by A.G. Hepburn], (Glasgow: 1964).

Sir William Hamilton (1788-1856), Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at Edinburgh University
36 incunabula are included amongst a collection of some 8,000 volumes on logic, aesthetics and the history of philosophy, formed by Sir William Hamilton. After Hamilton’s death private subscribers in Glasgow raised £2,000, which enabled his library to be purchased and presented to the University Library in 1878.

John Veitch (1829-1894), Professor of Logic and Rhetoric at Glasgow University
29 incunabula were received as part of the collection of over 400 volumes (mostly early editions of the late medieval scholastic philosophers), which Professor Veitch’s widow presented to the University Library in 1895.

In the 20th century the incunabula collections were enriched by the addition of another 170 volumes:

John Ferguson (1837-1916), bibliographer and Regius Professor of Chemistry at Glasgow
123 incunabula are included amongst the 7,500 volumes (mainly on alchemy, chemistry and related topics) purchased in 1921 from the library of Professor John Ferguson.  Ferguson’s valuable collection of general literature was not included in the purchase and a further 27 incunabula once owned by him were dispersed after his death.   They appear in the ‘Catalogue of books selected from the general literature section of the extensive & interesting library of the late John Ferguson’ (London:  Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge, 15-17 Nov. 1920):  lots 231 (ISTC  ia00197000 ), 232 (ISTC it00464000), 241 (ISTC ia01214000), 242 (ISTC  ia01299000 ), 246 (ISTC ip01005000), 299 (ISTC ib00531000), 311 (ISTC ic00237000), 428 (ISTC  ii00013000 ), 544 (ISTC ih00324000), 552 (ISTC ia00010000), 580 (?), 583 (ISTC  ij00397000 ), 591 (ISTC im00061000), 613 (ISTC  ig00362000 ), 621 (ISTC ii00182000), 622 (ISTC  ii00184000 ), 633 (ISTC  ip00583000 ), 858 (ISTC ig00178000), 887 (ISTC  ip00861000 ), 888 (ISTC  ip00872500 ), 890 (ISTC  ip01033000 ), 897 (ISTC  ij00429000 ), 901 (ISTC  il00195000), 916 (?), 917 (ISTC iv00079000: now Harvard University Library, Walsh 3699), 925 (ISTC  iw00004000), 946 (ISTC number uncertain); to which should probably be added lot 87 “Bonaventura. Liber aureus de Vita Christi, lit. goth. S.l. et a.”.

David Murray (1842-1928), Glasgow lawyer, antiquary and bibliographer
20 incunabula are included amongst the personal library of 23,000 printed items, which were presented to the University Library by Murray in 1927, the year before his death.

Sir John Stirling Maxwell (1866-1956)
11 incunabula from a collection of some 2,000 volumes forming part of the library of Sir William Stirling Maxwell (1818-1878), which was bequeathed to the University Library in 1956 under the terms of the will of his son, Sir John Stirling Maxwell. These were not the only incunabula owned by Sir William Stirling Maxwell:  a further 25 incunabula from the Stirling Maxwell library were offered for sale at Christie’s, London, on Tuesday, May 20, 1958, and three following days - see 'Catalogue of important printed books and an illuminated manuscript, the property of the trustees of the late Sir John Stirling-Maxwell, Bt. K.T.', lots 6 (ISTC ia00215000), 7 (ISTC ia00215000, another copy), 136 (ISTC ic00113000), 156 (ISTC ic00767000: now Buffalo & Erie County Public Library), 246 (ISTC ik00016000), 370 (ISTC is00307000), 539 (ISTC number uncertain), 597 (ISTC ig00296000), 743 (ISTC ia00135000), 767 (ISTC ib00489000), 768 (ISTC ib00489000, another copy), 769 (ISTC ib00490000), 780 (ISTC ic00073000), 782 (ISTC number uncertain), 783 (ISTC ic00297000), 784 (ISTC ic00302100), 804 (ISTC ie00101000), 805 (ISTC ie00101000, another copy), 836 (ISTC if00025000: now Univ. of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign, Harman 382), 837 (ISTC if00013500:  now University of Pennsylvania Library), 847 (ISTC if00310000: now Harvard University Library, Walsh 1010), 912 (ISTC ip00856400), 914 (ISTC number uncertain), 949 (ISTC iv00147000), 950 (ISTC iv00148000). An earlier emigré from the Stirling Maxwell library (ISTC ir00277000) came into the possession of J.P.R. Lyell (1871-1949) and was later owned by Emma Marshall Denkinger, who gifted it to Harvard University Library, 20 Jan. 1947 (Walsh 3767).

Trinity College (previously known as the Free Church College), Glasgow
21 incunabula were received by the University Library in 1974 when several thousand early printed volumes from Trinity College Library were placed on permanent deposit in the University Library by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. There is evidence that some incunabula were disposed of by the Free Church College earlier in the 20th century.  A copy of ISTC ij00298000 (Johannes Chrysostomus, Sermo super psalmum L, [Cologne:  Ulrich Zel, ca. 1466-67), bought in 1943 by the National Library of Scotland - and earlier in the library of Arthur Kay, President of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society - bears the blind library-stamp of the Free Church College Library (see William Beattie, 'Supplement to the hand-list of incunabula in the National Library of Scotland', no. 29).   And, curiously, the Free Church College Library, while retaining possession of one volume containing the first section of the text of ISTC ih00486000 (Hortus sanitatis.  Mainz:  Jacob Meydenbach, 23 June 1491), disposed of its companion volume (with identical blind-tooled binding), containing the final section of the text of ISTC ih00486000 bound with a copy of ISTC is00528000 (Simon Genuensis, Synonyma medicinae.  Venice:  Guilelmus Anima Mia, Tridensis, 13 Nov. 1486).   This second volume - also identifiable by its Free Church College blind library-stamp - was purchased by the Wellcome Historical Medical Library in 1905 (Poynter 309 & 552).

2.   The Web Catalogue:  methodology (provisional)

The Web Catalogue is essentially a short-title catalogue with author, title and imprint given in a standard form as in ISTC (Incunabula short-title catalogue i.e. the online international database of incunabula maintained by the British Library). Elaborate transcriptions of the title or incipit and colophon or explicit have been avoided since these are generally easily accessible in the standard incunabula catalogues such as BMC (Catalogue of books printed in the XVth century now in the British Museum) and GW (Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke). In a few instances, when no adequate description of an edition exists in print, a quasi facsimile transcription of title and imprint has been provided, modelled on BMC’s entries. The emphasis throughout in compiling each record has been to research and describe the unique attributes of each book i.e. to concentrate on copy-specific details:  provenance, binding, annotations, decoration added by hand, imperfections.


The headings in this catalogue are mainly taken from ISTC.   Occasionally the compiler has departed from the ISTC form of heading e.g. when recent scholarship provides an updated attribution (the work Imitatio Christi, for example, is entered under Thomas à Kempis rather than under its title; the De viribus herbarum carmen, which is entered under Macer, Floridus, in most incunabula catalogues, is here entered under Odo Magdunensis following the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek’s Inkunabelkatalog).  The term [pseudo-] in conjunction with a heading has been used throughout to signify works whose authorship is now considered to be spurious e.g. Aristoteles [pseudo-].   Such works are filed after an author’s genuine works rather than interfiled.   The plethora of variant forms of name for the same author is a challenge to the compiler of any catalogue of 15th-century books - and to the catalogue’s users.  This catalogue attempts to ease the reader’s path – at least to some extent – by providing a separate index of authors, editors, translators, commentators, with copious cross references from variant forms of name.


Generally the titles have been taken from ISTC so that a reasonably full (but by no means exhaustive) view of a book’s textual content is apparent. Editors, commentators and translators are included.


The imprint follows the pattern used by ISTC. Places of printing are given in their English form. When dates of printing are given in a colophon with reference to a saint’s day or to the Roman calendar, these are given in the standardized English form e.g. “3 July 1480”. In printing centres where the beginning of a new year was often reckoned on a day other than 1 January, e.g. Venice (1 March), Florence (25 March), and Paris (Easter), the year dates from the early part of the year are usually expressed in the form “1480/81” etc. Information in the imprint, which is not directly available from the book itself, is supplied in square brackets.

Format and collation

The original intention was to give only the format of a book and to omit a signature collation (since this information is generally available in the standard incunabula catalogues). However, it became apparent early on that in the case of many records (especially in those fields giving copy-specific details) it would be necessary to identify specific leaves e.g. to locate an illuminated initial or an annotation. It therefore seemed to be a useful service to the reader to have a signature collation immediately to hand e.g. for purposes of comparison with another copy. When a book is signed by the printer, the signature collation is reproduced so far as possible as it appears in the book (e.g. aa8 not 2a8). For the sake of clarity numbers are repeated when changes of sequence of signatures occur e.g. a-z8 &8 A-F8

The decision to include signature collations has not come without its problems:

  • It has not been possible in the Web Catalogue to reproduce some of the contractions used by the early printers and the only (somewhat unsatisfactory) solution available is to expand these contractions within square brackets e.g. [con].
  • The Tironian sign is reproduced as [et] rather than [&].
  • Unsigned books are given a supplied alphabetical signature collation in square brackets – following the pattern of Bod-inc and BMC. 
  • Unsigned preliminaries in an otherwise signed book are denoted by an asterisk within square brackets e.g. [*8]. (The Greek letter π is not used to denote unsigned preliminary leaves.)
  • With regard to foliation statements, books foliated by the printer have their foliation given as it appears in the book with a note on inconsistencies and errors if needed. In the case of books without a printer’s foliation (the majority), the total number of leaves is given in square brackets. 
  • The presence of blank leaves is always noted.


Following the collation statement come, when relevant, general notes applicable to all copies of an edition - recording, for example, alternative attributions of author or printer, alternative dates of printing, presence of woodcuts etc.

Bibliographical references

The ISTC number is always cited for each item (linked to the ISTC database record), followed by references to printed descriptions (where available) in four standard incunabula catalogues - Goff, BMC, Bod-inc, GW (cited in that order).  Other incunabula catalogues are cited if the need arises e.g. if the item does not appear in BMC, Bod-Inc or GW.

From this point onwards in each Web Catalogue record the fields are all copy-specific.


The current shelfmark of each book is always supplied for reference purposes (superseded University Library shelfmarks are noted in the final section of the Provenance field). Until the completion of the Web Catalogue the shelfmark has a dual function: in the various indexes to the catalogue it also takes the place of a separate serial number. Individual serial numbers will be assigned at the completion of the Project; duplicate and triplicate copies will have the same item number but each copy will be distinguished by a decimal point e.g. 808.1, 808.2 and post incunabula will be given the same number as the preceding item in the catalogue but they will be distinguished by an asterisk after the final digit. This notation has been adopted so that the reader does not receive an inflated impression of the actual number of discrete 15th-century editions in the collections.

Users of the Web Catalogue will notice that following the shelfmark there is a hyperlink “see main library entry for this copy”. By clicking on this link the reader is transferred to the newly revised record for the book in question in the University Library’s main online catalogue (rare books search). That revised main library online record is based on the Web Catalogue record but it is in a much expanded form. For example, it generally has greater detail in respect of textual content and includes subject headings and more numerous added entries for persons associated with the text. In appearance, too, the revised main library record often looks quite different from the Web Catalogue version;  its heading, for instance, is in the form laid down by Library of Congress (since LC headings are used throughout the main library catalogue) and the title and imprint also have a different appearance in that they conform to the cataloguing rules advocated in Descriptive Cataloguing of Rare Materials (Books) i.e. DCRM(B).  

To return to the Web Catalogue from the main online catalogue (rare books search screen), the user should use the back space key.


This field is used to describe those copies with settings of type diverging from the descriptions given in the standard incunabula catalogues.

Bound with

The contents of volumes containing more than one discrete item (Sammelbände) are recorded at this point; the actual physical sequence of the separate imprints is specified.


Ownership details start with the earliest known owner and progress in sequence to the latest known owner – each individual provenance beginning on a new line of text. The final element in this field records how and when the book arrived in the University Library e.g. “University of Glasgow:  Ferguson collection purchase, 1921”.   Brief biographical details including dates of birth and death or “floruit” dates are provided for individual owners (this information is frequently expanded in the Provenance Index) and some descriptive details are given for institutional owners (again often augmented in the Provenance Index). 

Evidence for ownership is always cited. In the case of inscriptions, these are given verbatim within double quotes together with the relevant leaf reference e.g. inscription on [a1r] (leaf [1r]) “Franciscus Boniuardus” and on [o7v] (leaf [122v]) “Boniuardi sum ex hereditate patruj”; contractions are generally expanded within square brackets e.g. inscription on u7v “Iste liber fuit emtus [sic] p[er] D. Aloisiu[m] et est s[an]c[t]i Michaelis de Muriano”. Ownership inscriptions which are defaced or otherwise totally unreadable are so noted, as are inscriptions readable only by ultra-violet lamp. When a part of an inscription has proved unreadable to the compiler a lacuna is indicated thus:  […]. In the case of uncertain readings, where the compiler has made a tentative decipherment, the word or words in question are followed by a question mark within parentheses.  

Ownership evidence from bookplates, book labels, armorial bindings, identifiable shelfmarks, mottoes, etc is always included. 

Considerable recourse has also been made to external evidence for provenances e.g. annotated book sale catalogues – with the holding library and shelfmark of the relevant sale catalogue being cited. Other external evidence revealing or confirming ownership – such as manuscript correspondence with booksellers, personal library inventories – has also been exploited.


Description of a book’s binding begins firstly with country of origin, followed by century of production, then by material and finally by type or style of decoration. Bindings, which – to the compiler at least – appear to be of uncertain century, are described using the form “17th/18th century”. Pastedowns are described if they are of a material other than plain paper (e.g. manuscript, marbled or other decorated paper) or if they are modern replacements on an older binding. In some instances it has been possible to describe watermarks on flyleaves when fully visible. Early features e.g. clasps, the presence of tabs or fore-edge lettering are included. Details of later repairs or restoration are also given. In the case of rebound volumes, any surviving evidence of an earlier binding is included. Signed or otherwise identifiable bindings are always noted. The final element in the Bindings field is the size of the covers of the book measured in millimetres (height first followed by width).

Leaf size

Size of the leaves of the text block measured in millimetres (height first followed by width).


Manuscript annotations are always noted and details are provided of the language of the annotation and an approximate dating by century (though sometimes - when the evidence is sparse – the compiler has had to adopt the form “15th/16th century” or simply the word “early”). The colour of the ink is indicated and an assessment made as to whether the annotations are extensive or occasional, whether throughout the volume or restricted to specific gatherings. An attempt has been made to define the type of annotation e.g. marginal or interlinear, underlining, keywords, pointing hands, “nota” marks, early manuscript signatures, early foliation. Later annotations (18th-20th century) such as pencil numbers on endpapers and flyleaves, possible price codes, initials, etc have been transcribed in the hope that although many may not be meaningful to the compiler, they may be recognised by others. Any annotation that appears to resemble a shelfmark has been noted, whatever its age. Attention is drawn to loss of annotations caused by cropping or by over zealous washing of leaves by binders (generally of the 18th and 19th centuries).


The principle decorations are described first (with a reference to the relevant signatures or leaf numbers) e.g. major initials and borders - with a description of the motifs and colours used;  then a description of lesser decorations divided into types e.g. single colour initials, paragraph marks, capital strokes, line fillers.


Missing leaves are always specified (including missing blank leaves). Severe damage such as extensive worming or damp-staining, large tears affecting text is also noted.


Each Web Catalogue record is illustrated with at least 3 photographic images in colour. In selecting the images the emphasis has been on highlighting the copy-specific details of each item. Click on the images to view larger versions of them. Note that this takes you out of the Web Catalogue to the Library's Flickr site where the images are mounted. Click on the back button to return to the Web Catalogue. Please note that to save costs in using this large number of illustrations, we have not been able to provide images produced professionally to archival standards (ie with colour calibration and rulers etc) by the University's Photographic Unit. Rather we hope that these images will be of sufficient quality to illustrate certain points made in the descriptions of the books in each record. It is possible, however, to order high quality images from any of the books - please see our guide to ordering photographs.

3.   Navigation of the Web Catalogue (provisional)

The Web Catalogue can be approached in two main ways. For those users primarily interested in authors and texts, there is an A-Z author sequence. For those users whose interests veer more towards the history of printing, there is an A-Z sequence by country, town and printer.

The aim throughout in designing and constructing the Web Catalogue has been to enable the user to exploit to the full the often complex array of data contained within each record. We hope we have been able to go some way to achieving this aim by the construction of a series of indexes, whose contents are directly linked to the full web records:

  • Names (including variant forms of names) associated with the textual content of each book – authors, editors, translators, commentators.
  • Printers.
  • Date of printing. 
  • Language (for books printed other than in Latin).
  • Provenances.
  • Bookplates.
  • Booksellers and dealers.
  • Book prices.
  • Bindings.
  • Binders.
  • Woodcuts (excluding ornaments).
  • Decoration.
  • Annotations.
  • Other special features or peculiarities.

There is also a reference section that includes an appendix of post-1500 books, concordances to the standard reference works and a bibliography of works cited.

At this early stage in the project we would be glad to hear from you if you feel that any other indexes could usefully be added to aid other areas of research.

Go to the acknowledgements or to the bibliography.

Jack Baldwin.
August 2010