Two Major Discoveries among Princeton University Library’s Printed Binding Fragments

Princeton University Library is home to several hundred early printed fragments discovered within old bookbindings. These are the vestiges of old printed books, which, having fallen out of use centuries ago, eventually came to be conscripted into inglorious servitude as recycled waste material within the bindings of newer books. The last surviving witnesses to otherwise lost books, they serve historians of book culture as primary evidence of the rising and falling fortunes of texts, patterns of readership, and routes of dissemination. As such, they should be counted as books in their own right, albeit copies that happen not to have survived intact.

Recent discoveries of early printed binding waste at Princeton include a bifolium from Boniface VIII, Liber sextus decretalium (Mainz: Johann Fust & Peter Schoeffer, 1465), which now serves as the vellum cover of Johann Funck’s Chronologia, hoc est, Omnium temporum et annorum ab initio mundi  (Wittenberg: Zachariah Lehmann, for Andreas Hoffmann, 1601), formerly at the University of Tübingen. This is the second-earliest printed fragment still preserved on a bookbinding at Princeton. A fragment of the Gutenberg Bible, ca. 1455, preserved in situ on a German law book printed in 1666, was featured in an earlier installment of the “Notabilia” blog:

Especially important for the study of 15th-century book culture is the discovery — in a neglected box of old binding fragments — of two paper leaves of a previously UNKNOWN edition of a German Prognostication for the Year 1482, by Wenzel Faber von Budweis (ca. 1455–1518), a Bohemian-born physician and astronomer at the University of Leipzig. The quarto booklet was published in Augsburg by Christmann Heyny, using the late Günther Zainer’s types, probably toward the end of 1481.

The vernacular German text consists of Faber’s predictions for the coming year that were pertinent to the city of Leipzig and surrounding regions. Faber was one of the leading authors of this popular genre, known as Practica, and Princeton’s Prognostication for 1482 is the earliest surviving work by this author. The complete text is known from a Leipzig edition of the same year, uniquely preserved at Nuremberg’s Stadtbibliothek, but no other trace of this Augsburg printing has ever been found. It has been catalogued as a new, unique item in the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke in Berlin. Their description, listing only the Princeton fragments, is below:

For much more on Wenzel Faber von Budweis, including two manuscripts at Princeton University Library that he owned – one of which includes a partial inventory of his library at the time of his death, see Don C. Skemer, ‘Wenzel Faber von Budweis (c. 1455/1460–1518): An astrologer and his library in the early age of printing’, in: Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 82 (2007), pp. 241-277, and these catalogue records: thanks to Falk Eisermann & Oliver Duntze, Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, Berlin.