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Virgil, Opera (Venice, 1470)

In 1785 Henry Quin set off from Ireland on a Grand Tour of Europe spending time in Paris and other cities viewing and purchasing fine editions of early printed books, mainly those of European literature and Classical authors.

In 1790, books from the library of an Italian-Dutch bibliophile, Pietro-Antonio Bolongaro-Crevenna, were auctioned in Amsterdam. Quin bid successfully for several lots, despite noting in his copy of the catalogue that the lots on offer were ‘the most unsophisticated books I ever saw’. This edition of Virgil’s Opera, printed on vellum by Vindelinus de Spira in Venice in 1470, cost Quin 1925 florins, the highest price paid for any item in the auction; because of this, he was presented with the auctioneer’s gavel at the end of the sale.

This folio edition of Virgil’s works is typical of an incunabulum produced during the transition from manuscripts to printed books. It does not have a title-page which was to become a convention in printed books. It was also illustrated by hand after printing, mostly with illuminated initials. Its morocco binding was commissioned by Quin from the English bookbinder Roger Payne.

Shelfmark: Quin 64

Lydia Ferguson

Dr Lydia Ferguson is Principal Librarian in the Department of Early Printed Books and Special Collections. She is particularly interested in the history of books printed before 1800 and in 18th-and 19th-century children’s books.