Incunabula in the Westminster Abbey and Westminster School Libraries

By Christopher D. Cook; bookbinding descriptions by Mirjam M. Foot

Title page of Incunabula in the Westminster Abbey and Westminster School Libraries

Westminster Abbey is closely connected with the early history of printing in England: England's first printer, William Caxton, had his workshop within the monastery walls. Both the Abbey and the adjacent Westminster School have profited by the learning and generosity of generations of bishops, deans, canons, and teachers who donated or bequeathed them their collections of incunabula.

Eighty-five editions of books printed before 1501, including seventeen fragments—several of great rarity and importance—have been described in Incunabula in the Westminster Abbey and Westminster School Libraries published by the Bibliographical Society. These books reflect the scholarly interests and collecting habits of their former owners, ranging widely in subject and originating from a variety of European presses. The descriptions, by Christopher D. Cook, pay much attention to copy-specific features. Many of the works have early annotations and/or marginal notes, bearing witness to their ownership and the use their readers made of them, as well as providing evidence for the importation of early books, bound and unbound, into England. About half the volumes are in contemporary or near-contemporary bindings, mostly English, but several from the Continent, and these have been identified and described by Mirjam M. Foot.

This useful and interesting volume includes a detailed bibliography; concordances with major catalogs of incunabula elsewhere; and indexes of printers, publishers, donors, and former owners (with short biographies), copy-specific features, binders, and binding features.

For a description of Westminster Abbey Library's copy of Silvester de Prierio, Compendium in Johannem Capreolum cum additionibus (Cremona: Carolus de Darleriis, 15 and 28 April 1497; ISTC is00519000), see "An Additional Incunabulum in Westminster Abbey Library."

About the Authors

Portrait of Christopher D. Cook at Westminster Abbey LibraryChristopher D. Cook is an academic librarian in Washington, D.C. He was previously a rare-book cataloger at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Cook was the 2007 recipient of the Bibliographical Society of America's Katharine Pantzer Fellowship in the British Book Trades.

Portrait of Mirjam M. Foot at Westminster Abbey LibraryMirjam M. Foot is Professor Emerita at the University of London. She is an internationally-known authority on the history of bookbinding.