See the world’s oldest printed books

A new exhibition, opening at the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Art Gallery will mark the end of a project to create a unique publicly accessible digital catalogue of over 1,000 of the world’s oldest books.

The exhibition, ‘Ingenious Impressions: The Coming of the Book’, will run at the University’s Hunterian Gallery from the 27 February - 21 June 2015.

The new digital catalogue will contain a record of landmark books dating from the dawn of the age of printing, over 500 years ago.

Amongst the important collection is a book containing the very first map ever printed and a moving astronomical calendar, which uses adjustable paper wheels which can be operated to show the motion of the Moon.

The ‘Ingenious Impressions’ exhibition launch will mark the end of a six year project to comprehensively research the origins and history of each of the 1,050 pre-15th century books held at the University of Glasgow’s collection.

Books dating back to before 1501 are known as ‘Incunables’. The collection which is held by the University of Glasgow Library’s Special Collections Department, is one of the largest in the UK.

This is the first time that a selection of the University’s 15th century books will ever have been on display together.

The research on the Glasgow Incunabula Project was undertaken by Jack Baldwin (Honorary Research Fellow) and is managed and assisted by University of Glasgow Library’s Rare Books Librarians, Julie Gardham and Robert Maclean. They have been researching the content of every book and the journeys they made before they came in to the University’s possession.

Julie said “We are delighted to be able to launch this digital resource which I hope will encourage more people to find out about these incredible books and their histories.

It may seem strange to us today, but when published these books were at the forefront of an information revolution driven by a new technology – printing. It was this technological advance that powered the Renaissance and led to the spread of learning across Europe and beyond.

These books are significant, not only because their content offers us a unique window into history, but also because they signify a crucial shift in the human story.”

The University of Glasgow’s incunabula collection is the largest in Scotland with over a thousand copies housed in the University Library. More than half come from the collection of Hunterian founder Dr William Hunter (1718-83).

A selection of the most remarkable works from the Incunabula project have been reprinted in a catalogue accompanying the ‘Ingenious Impressions’ exhibition.

Find out more.

First published: 26 February 2015

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