Friday, October 11th, 2013...11:58 am

Contributing Data for Greater Understanding

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Lower edge, markings of the Franciscans of San Cerbone, Lucca, WKR 21.6.3On Monday of last week Dr. Cristina Dondi, one of the contributors to the six-volume Catalogue of Printed Books in the Fifteenth Century now in the Bodleian Library (Bod-Inc), principal investigator of Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI), and, Secretary of the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL), spoke at Houghton library on her current research and on Thursday she gave a workshop using materials drawn from the Library’s collections.  This series of lectures and workshops on early books and manuscripts is funded by Houghton Library, the Harvard University Program in Medieval Studies and the Harvard Law School Library’s Special Collections.  One of Dr. Dondi’s examples in the workshop was especially exciting as an indication of how Harvard Library material can contribute to a larger and collective understanding of the spread of early printing through an analysis of prices, trade and use.  We are grateful to volunteer John Lancaster who has been entering  Harvard data into MEI and we are pleased that Dr. Dondi has agreed to allow us to use her remarks in this blog.

William Stoneman
Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts

 I was recently asked to present in Florence a new catalogue of incunabula, Gli incunaboli della Biblioteca Provinciale dei Frati Minori di Firenze, ed. Chiara Razzolini, Elisa di Renzo, Irene Zanella, with an essay of Neil Harris, Florence, Regione Toscana, Pacini Editore, 2012.  A number of collections of Franciscan houses from all over Tuscany have been gathered together in this Florentine library. Leafing through the useful chapter on provenance marks, where the history of each collection is described and illustrated by pictures of their ownership inscriptions, stamps, and former shelfmarks, I recognised a familiar name: ‘Libraria di S. Cerbone’. The Provenance Index of the Bod-Inc does indeed register ‘Libraria di S. Cerbone (sixteenth century)’ but with no further identification. It is found in

Franciscus de Platea, Opus restitutionum, usurarum, excommunicationum, Venice: Johannes de Colonia and Johannes Manthen, 22 Jan. 1477. Folio (ISTC ip00758000; MEI 02005171; Bodley Auct. 2Q inf. 2.15; Bod-inc P-337)

At the time we were not able to locate this provenance. Now I know that it belonged to the library of the Franciscans of San Cerbone of Lucca, which was moved to the provincial library of the Franciscans of Florence in the twentieth century. But if one incunable is now in Bodley, I thought, there must be others around. Where? My first call was of course Paul Needham’s Index Possessorum Incunabulorum (IPI), now available on the CERL website , where I found an entry which led to Yale, ‘N-273’, that is:

Nonius Marcellus, De proprietate latini sermonis, etc. Venice : Antonius de Gusago, 12 Feb. 1498. Folio (ISTC in00273000; MEI 02005170; Yale 1977+187).

Elizabeth Frengel kindly helped with the retrieval of their catalogue record from the IPI reference. In the Yale copy ‘S. Cerbone’ is also written along the fore-edge, as it is in a photograph provided in the Florence catalogue.

Second call was to look in Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI), the database that I created in 2009 and is now being used by a growing number of libraries to record the copy specific of their incunables.  A search for “S. C.”, one of the ways the library marked their books across the edges, produced a copy in the Houghton Library

Paulus de Sancta Maria, Scrutinium scripturarum, Mainz: Peter Schoeffer, 7 Jan. 1478. Folio (ISTC ip00205000; MEI 02005016; Houghton WKR 21.6.3; Walsh 19)

John Lancaster is entering into MEI data from Houghton library incunabula originally published in James Walsh, A Catalogue of the Fifteenth-Century Printed Books in the Harvard University Library. It is a tribute to the thorough recording of the evidence, even the one which did not lead immediately to a clear identification, that I was able to pick up on this incunable’s unidentified writing on the edges in an Italian hand. I immediately asked William Stoneman for a picture (immediately kindly supplied by Monique Duhaime) which could be compared with that provided in the Florence catalogue, and will not forget Bill’s line in the message by return:

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was from San Cerbone if it can’t be Sydney Cockerell!” The comparison did indeed confirm that the Houghton copy came from San Cerbone of Lucca.

The Houghton copy was purchased by Adolphus Williamson Green (1843-1917) of New York, who bequeathed it to his daughter Mrs. Norman P. Ream who donated it to Harvard College Library in June 1951. The Yale copy was purchased in Sept. 1987. However, the Bodleian copy gives us a hint at how these incunabula left the convent early in the 19th century and entered the antiquarian book market. The Bodleian book came into the hands of the Lucca collectors Giacomo (1753-1820) and Cesare (1756-1832) Lucchesini, no doubt as a consequence of the disruptions caused by the suppressions of religious institutions which took place in Tuscany first with Peter Leopold (Granduke of Tuscany 1765-90) in 1780, then with Napoleon in 1808-10. The bulk of the Lucchesini library was purchased in1834 by the Lucca Government and incorporated into the public library of the town. However, a number of Lucchesini books must have been sold before that date, as witnessed by the Bodleian copy from San Cerbone, which was purchased for £0. 4. 6. in 1832 in Florence at an unidentified sale by the Oxford bookseller David Alphonso Talboys acting for the Bodleian Library, together with 16 other editions formerly owned by the Lucchesini. It is therefore very likely the two American copies were also purchased at the 1832 sale in Florence.

These incunables are now reunited in MEI where the Bodleian, Yale, Houghton, and one of the 39 editions of San Cerbone now in Florence can be found.

Florence copy, Nestor Dionysius, Vocabularius, [Venice]: Guilelmus Anima Mia, 26 June 1488. Folio (ISTC in00014000; MEI 02005172; BPF INC.2.15)

Chiara Razzolini is now a MEI editor and will describe in MEI all the incunabula of the Biblioteca Provinciale dei Frati Minori of Florence.

It is time for this kind of discovery and research not to be serendipitous, or just so hard and time consuming, any longer: decades of detailed copy specific cataloguing, a tool that can bring these valuable data together for research, the awareness of the librarians in charge of these collections of the benefits of integrating data, and the essential work of MEI editors (now more than 40) who are generating the records in the database either book in hand or from printed sources, are making it possible.

Cristina Dondi

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