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Fifteenth-century delights with Dr Falk Eisermann

Dr Eisermann showing an incunabulum to participants at the workshop
Incunabula workshop led by Dr Falk Eisermann

On Tuesday 12th December 2017 the Department of Early Printed Books & Special Collections had the pleasure of facilitating an afternoon workshop on incunabula led by Dr Falk Eisermann.

Dr Eisermann is head of the Incunabula Division at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and is considered a world-leading expert in the field. The workshop was arranged by Dr Immo Warntjes, Ussher Assistant Professor in Early Medieval Irish History, and was attended by Trinity postgraduate students and staff.

Dr Eisermann leafing through incunabulum
Leafing through Paris and Vienne. Antwerp: Gerard Leeu, 1492.

Dr Eisermann is presently head of the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (Union catalogue of incunabula) which was founded in 1904 and aims to list all 15th-century items printed from movable type. The catalogue is maintained by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and exists in a print and online hybrid.

Following a brief introduction to the above resource, Dr Eisermann presented a variety of items from the Library’s rich collection of incunabula¹. The session began with an undated German Bible printed in Strasbourg, no later than 1470, by Heinrich Eggestein (Shelfmark:, 30). This is the second pre-Reformation German language Bible, the first having been printed in 1466. Next came the delightful Book of hawking, hunting and heraldry printed by Wynkyn de Worde in Westminster in 1496 (Shelfmark: OL Safe).

Hand-coloured woodcut depicting the punishment of figures
Hand-coloured woodcut from the account of St Patrick’s Purgatory

Participants had the opportunity to examine a rare hymn-book of which there are only four known copies: Expositio hymnorum printed in Paris by Félix Baligault in 1492 (Shelfmark: Press L.2.1 no.1); an indulgence printed on vellum by William Caxton in 1489 (Shelfmark: OLS L-1-330); editions in English and Dutch of the romance Paris and Vienne, printed in Antwerp by Gerard Leeu (Shelfmark: OLS 178.o.16 no.2 and no.4); Ephemerides by mathematician and astronomer Regiomontanus, printed in Venice by Peter Liechtenstein in 1498 (Shelfmark: EE.o.36 no.1); and a remarkable two-leaf account in German of St Patrick’s Purgatory, Von dē fegfeüer sancti patricÿ in ÿbernia (Shelfmark: Press B.6.3), which Dr Eisermann has promised to follow up with some further investigation.

Lastly, participants were shown incunabula from two of the Library’s most splendid collections: From the Fagel collection, Werner Rolevinck’s Fasciculus temporum, printed in Utrecht by Jan Veldener in 1480 (Shelfmark: Fag.V.6.1), and from the Quin collection, Virgil’s Opera, printed on vellum in Venice by Vindelinus de Spira in 1470 (Shelfmark: Quin 64).

The workshop concluded with an overview of various online tools and resources for working with incunabula including the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) maintained by the British Library,  the incunabula catalogue of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, and the teaching tool The Atlas of Early Printing hosted by the University of Iowa Libraries.

Throughout the workshop Dr Eisermann flagged plenty of areas calling for further research, such as the large gap in scholarship regarding audiences for incunabula, and the Department looks forward to liaising again with Dr Eisermann.


  1. The Library’s incunabula (acquired before 1905) are listed in the printed resource, Catalogue of fifteenth-century books in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin and in Marsh’s Library, Dublin with a few from other collections by T.K. Abbott (Dublin, 1905). While Abbott’s catalogue is available online, the Department’s reading room copy has been annotated over the years and is useful for tracking shelfmark changes. Incunabula acquired after the date of Abbott’s catalogue are recorded in the Library’s online catalogue.
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