A Magnificent Manuscript of 1458, Signed by its Scribe — and by its Illuminator?

Giovanni Balbi, Catholicon. Scheide Library M 163, f. 2r

An immense folio manuscript of Giovanni Balbi’s Catholicon, the essential Latin dictionary of the later Middle Ages, is one of the most spectacular illuminated manuscripts preserved in the Scheide Library. Bound in 15th-century tooled calfskin over wooden boards, it consists of 326 vellum leaves measuring 534 x 355 mm, and is estimated to weigh as much as a well-nourished toddler. The book was first recorded in 1783, in the library of the Augustinian Canons of Heilig Kreuz (Holy Cross) in Augsburg, Germany.1 

The completed manuscript, one of the longest of all medieval Latin texts, was signed by its diligent scribe, Hainricus Lengfelt, on Saturday, 18 December 1458. Lengfelt, originally from Erfurt but active in Augsburg, is known to have produced two additional manuscripts: a very similar second copy of the Catholicon, written for the Cistercians of Aldersbach bei Passau in 1462 (illuminated by Johannes Bämler, now at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, Clm 2975); and a German translation of Arnoldus de Villanova’s Remedia ad maleficia (Colmar, Bibliothèque Municipale, Ms 81), dated 1467.

Hainrich Lengfelt’s signature (1458) in the Scheide Catholicon, f. 303r.

Scheide Catholicon, f. 76r

The rich illumination of the Scheide Catholicon, which includes 29 large capital letters painted on gold leaf with extensive foliate borders, long has been securely attributed to Heinrich Molitor, a leading calligrapher who worked both in Augsburg and for the Benedictine Abbey of Scheyern during the 1460s.2

It was recently noticed that the large initial M on folio 182 recto has a handsome brown-ink M written in the margin to its left, whereas the other illuminated letters of the alphabet have a much smaller guide letter. A similar M, written next to various large initials in a Latin Bible manuscript illuminated by Molitor, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (Ms lat. 140), appears to serve as Molitor’s signature.3

Scheide Catholicon, f. 182r (with Molitor’s ‘M’ in left margin?)

Latin Bible, Paris, BNF, Ms. lat. 140, illuminated by Heinrich Molitor, with ‘M’ written next to other illuminated initials.

If this interpretation of the otherwise unexplained M proves to be correct, then the Scheide Library’s Catholicon would be one of the extremely few 15th-century manuscripts that was ‘signed’ both by its scribe and by its illuminator.

Lengfeld’s pride in his calligraphic skill (and possibly Molitor’s justifiable pride in his illuminated initials) should be considered in light of the immense changes in book production methods that arose in Germany during this period. The emergence of Europe’s typographic printing technology in Mainz during the early 1450s, credited to Johannes Gutenberg, led to the publication of extensive folio editions of the Catholicon at Mainz in 1460 (by Gutenberg?) and by Günther Zainer in Augsburg in 1469, as well as some twenty further editions printed by others by the year 1500. Whereas Lengfeld and Molitor would have had many more books to write and illuminate, future generations had far fewer opportunities to work on this scale and at this level of luxury.





1 Philipp Wilhelm Gercken: Reisen durch Schwaben, Baiern, angränzende Schweiz, Franken, und die Rheinische Provinzen… 1: Von Schwaben und Baiern (Stendal, 1783), pp. 258-59.

2 John T. McQuillen, ‘Fifteenth-Century Book Networks: Scribes, Illuminators, Binders, and the Introduction of Print’, The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 107, No. 4 (December 2013), pp. 495-515.

3 I thank Paul Needham, Scheide Librarian (Emeritus), for bringing this Bible to my attention.

WHAT COULD BE BETTER? Pairing and Comparing the Scheide and Kane Copies of Fifteenth-Century Books

Question: What could be better for the study of early printed books than examining a copy of a rare 15th-century edition?

Answer: Examining two copies of a rare 15th-century edition.


Thanks to several formerly independent channels of 20th-century collecting, now united, Princeton University Library’s Special Collections owns multiple copies of more than thirty 15th-century editions. We do not consider them ‘duplicates’, as that would imply that they are absolutely identical, and that nothing is to be learned from the ‘second’ copy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if every letter of every word printed on every page were virtually identical (with printing shop corrections and other improvements, this is often not the case), the individual copies would still reflect entirely different histories of readership and survival, preserving unique material evidence that may be crucial to the attentive researcher, or of worthwhile interest to the casual student of book history.

Illustrated below are four examples of 15th-century editions represented by two copies. In each case, one of the copies was owned by Grenville Kane (1854–1943) of Tuxedo Park, New York, whose fine library of early books and Americana was purchased by the Trustees of Princeton University in 1946, while another copy is in the incomparable Scheide Library, long on deposit in Firestone Library but bequeathed to Princeton University in 2015 by the late William H. Scheide (1914–2014), Class of 1936. The first things that strikes most present-day viewers are the differences in their hand-decoration, and in their various bindings – copy-specific features that were added only after the individual sets of printed sheets were sold to their first owners. Moreover, three of the selected pairs also exhibit distinctive typographic variations, belying the notion that they are ‘duplicates’. Here we offer only the briefest introductions to these pairs of books, which call out for further study and comparison:


Cicero, De Officiis. [Mainz:] Johann Fust & Peter Schoeffer, 4 February 1466. 

Scheide 31.17

These two small folios, both printed on vellum, are from the second edition of Cicero’s treatise on the honorable fulfillment of moral duties, one of the first Classical works to be published. The Scheide copy, richly illuminated in Franco-Flemish style, is among the most beautiful of the roughly 50 copies that survive. It emerged from the collection of Ralph Willett (1719–1795), whose library at Merly was sold by Sotheby’s in 1813, and later was owned by Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773–1843), and Robert Stayner Holford (1808–1892), of Gloucestershire, respectively. In 1925 Holford’s son sold the book to the Philadelphia bookseller A.S.W. Rosenbach, from whom Gertrude Scheide Caldwell purchased it as a Christmas gift for her brother John H. Scheide in December, 1927.

EXKA Incunabula 1466

Princeton’s other copy, decorated in German style, has been traced back to 1572, when ‘David Weisius’ was recorded as its donor to the town library of Augsburg. This individual was probably David Weiss (1531–1593), Augsburg patrician and town benefactor. It remained in Augsburg until 1798, after which it passed through three important private collections in Moscow.1 In 1931 the Soviet government sold it through Maggs Brothers, London, to Grenville Kane, whose collection came to Princeton University Library in 1946.




Recent research has led to the important discovery that the pair of painted coats-of-arms on the first page of Princeton’s Cicero refers to the German noble families of Truchseß zu Wetzhausen (left) and Wilhelmsdorf (right). To date, the only known union between these families was the mid-15th-century marriage of Jakob Truchseß zu Wetzhausen of Dachsbach and Susanna von Wilhelmsdorf.2 Their son, Dr Thomas Truchseß zu Wetzhausen (ca. 1460–1523), Dean of Speyer Cathedral, one-time student and later defender of Johannes Reuchlin, and correspondent and host of Erasmus of Rotterdam, was almost certainly the owner of Princeton’s 1466 Cicero.

Comparison of the Princeton and Scheide copies also reveals several typographic variants, including the presence in the Scheide copy of a four-line Latin incipit, printed in red on the first page, but omitted from the Princeton copy, in which a shorter titulus was written in by hand; numerous instances of each of these contingencies survive. Another striking difference is found on f. 14 verso, where the Scheide copy has the heading printed as usual in red type, while in the Princeton copy, the entire heading was printed upside down – an isolated accident that resulted from one of the many complications of printing with two colors.


St Augustine, De Civitate Dei. Rome: Conradus Sweynheym & Arnoldus Pannartz, in domo Petri de Maximo, 1468.

EXKA Incunabula 1468

This Royal folio is either the second or the third edition of this foundational text of Western Christendom, following the Subiaco edition of 1467 and possibly the Strasbourg edition, datable not after 1468. The first page of the text in the Princeton copy was illuminated in colorful Italian ‘bianchi girari’ style. Interestingly, for the gilt initial G that introduces the words ‘Gloriosissimam civitatem dei’, a woodcut stamp, not printed in other copies, provided black outlines for the illuminator’s work, which continued free-hand into the margin. Several pages bear extensive contemporary annotations. The volume was bound in the 1790s for the British bibliophile Michael Wodhull (1740–1816), and was acquired by Princeton in 1946 with the Kane collection.


Scheide 59.5

By contrast, the copy purchased by John Scheide in 1940, which emerged from the Syston Park Library in 1884 and was rebound in London by Douglas Cockerell in 1903, never received its requisite initials or decoration by hand; indeed, the book reveals virtually no evidence of use by early readers. The copy is nevertheless of considerable interest, as its introductory leaf bears a beautifully written and historically significant gift inscription (below), which records that Nicolò Sandonino (1422–1499), Bishop of Lucca beginning in 1479, presented this book to the Carmelites of San Pietro Cigoli in Lucca in 1491. It is curious that these friars, who disposed of numerous important books during the early 18th century, seem to have had no use for the bishop’s gift.

The Bishop of Lucca’s gift inscription, 1491.


Leonardo Bruni, De bello Italico adversus Gothos. Foligno: Emiliano Orfini & Johann Neumeister, 1470.

EXKA Incunabula 1470 Bruni

The first book printed in the small Italian town of Foligno was this history of the 5th-century Goth invasion of the Italian peninsula, compiled in 1441 by Leonardo Bruni. It was published in 1470 by Johannes Neumeister, a peripatetic printer from Mainz who made a career of enticing investors into supporting unsustainable printing ventures. It is bound with another rare Chancery folio, the only copy held in America of Bernardus Justinianus, Oratio habita apud Sixtum IV contra Turcos. [Rome]: Johannes Philippus de Lignamine, [after 2 Dec. 1471]. The rubrication throughout is French, and the bottom margin of the first leaf bears the inscription ‘Jacques le Chandelier, 1550’. This owner is probably to be identified with the contemporary Royal Secretary in Paris by that name. The volume later wandered through a series of distinguished European private libraries and came to Princeton University with the Kane collection in 1946.3

Scheide 40.1

The Scheide copy, illuminated in the Italian ‘bianchi girari’ (white vine) style, is probably the one offered by the Ulrico Hoepli firm in Milan in 1935. It subsequently entered the library of Giannalisa Feltrinelli (1903–1981), an Italian heiress and bibliophile who had homes in Rome, Milan, Geneva, and Stanbridge East, Canada. The book was auctioned at Christie’s in New York on 7 October 1997, lot 19, to H. P. Kraus. When his firm’s inventory was auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York in December 2003, the book remained available and was bought after the sale by William H. Scheide.



In addition to featuring contrasting French and Italian hand-decoration, the two copies are differentiated by variant typesetting in their colophons, which include different spellings of the surname and hometown of Neumeister’s patron, the master of the papal mint in Foligno, Emilianus de Orfinis. Whereas the colophon in Princeton’s copy reads ‘Ursinis Eulginas’, that of the Scheide copy has been corrected to ‘Orfinis Fulginas’ (below).


Ptolemy, Cosmographia. Ulm: Lienhart Holle, 16 July 1482.

The Super-Royal folio ‘Ulm Ptolemy’ of 1482 is famous for its 32 large woodcut maps, including the great double-page ‘World Map’ carved by Johannes Schnitzer of Arnsheim, 26 regional maps based on Ptolemy’s 2nd-century CE descriptions, and five new maps of Italy, France Spain, Scandinavia, and the Holy Land, based on manuscript projections by the editor of the work, Nicolaus Germanus, a Benedictine monk from the diocese of Breslau who lived and worked in Florence.

EXKA Ptolemy 1482

The Princeton copy, sold by the Rappaport firm in Rome toward the beginning of the last century, came with the Grenville Kane collection in 1946. The Scheide copy, richly hand-colored throughout, was inscribed in 1509 by Johannes Protzer (d. 1528), a scholar and bibliophile of Nördlingen, Germany. It emerged in the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps in the 19th century and was acquired by John H. Scheide from A.S.W. Rosenbach in 1924.

Scheide 58.6

Although bibliographers sometimes discuss two 1482 Ulm ‘editions’ of this book, in fact there was only one edition, albeit one with many of its maps accompanied by textual descriptions that can appear in one of two or more alternate settings. For example, in the Princeton copy (below, left), the ninth map for Asia is accompanied by text that was composed into columns of 27 lines within a somewhat cramped square-shaped woodcut frame. By contrast, in the Scheide copy (below, right), the same page was composed more spaciously into 30 lines, fitting less tightly into a taller rectangular frame. To date, there has been no conclusive analysis of all the variant pages. Only a systematic comparison of multiple copies will provide a clearer understanding of the production of the 1482 Ulm Ptolemy.


What Could be Better?

Whereas traditional rare book librarianship tended to look upon the acquisition of ‘duplicates’ as undesirable or wasteful, given that precious funds could go toward adding texts that were not already represented in the collection, it is worth considering the special pedagogical and research value of comparing two copies from the same edition side by side. Experienced scholars as well as first-time students can appreciate that the two copies present distinct multiples of the original creation, each one preserving its own archeological record of survival and human intervention. Rubrication, illumination, binding, annotation, censorship, damage, repair, and other reflections of ownership and use offer fascinating traces of their disparate trajectories through history, revealing the many ways in which old books, as Milton observed, ‘are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them’.


Readers may be interested in the Morgan Library’s virtual tour by John McQuillen, “Why Three Gutenberg Bibles?”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIteWBHSa00&fbclid=IwAR2615uiqBWL15HGX8kAnOykQfWUBshMmNUIv1CRI6fBlQ8IvZ6jzz-jbjk


1 Count Aleksei Golowkin (d. 1811) of Moscow, whose gilt coat of arms appears on the front cover of the red-dyed goatskin binding; Alexandre Vlassoff (d. 1825), Imperial chamberlain in Moscow; Prince Michael Galitzin / Golitsyn (1804–1860), also in Moscow, with whose family it remained into the 20th century.

2 Johann Gottfried Biedermann, Geschlechtsregister der Reichsfrey unmittelbaren Ritterschaft Landes zu Franken Löblichen Orts Baunach (Bayreuth: Dietzel, 1747), table 197.

3 Early owners included Paul Girardot de Préfond (during the 1760s) in Paris; Pietro Antonio Bolongaro Crevenna (1735–1792) in Amsterdam; Michael Wodhull (1740–1816) in London; and William Horatio Crawford (1815–1888) at Lakelands in Cork, Ireland. In 1897 it was offered by the Quaritch firm (Catalogue 166, no. 770).



Book Nooks and Collectors’ Corners at Princeton

Bookplates (and ghostly traces of adhesive), stamps, and signatures tell of where this volume, resting in the Chancellor Green Rotunda, has been. It’s a copy of Antony and Cleopatra from the Works of Shakespeare edited by R. H. Case. Note, especially, the inscription, “Willard Thorp,” in the top right corner and continue through the end of this post.

“The history of book-collecting is a record of service by book-collectors—a service performed sometimes deliberately, sometimes unconsciously—to the republic of letters,” wrote John Carter in 1948, referring in the same sentence to the Parrish Collection of Victorian Novelists at Princeton.[1] Carter, whose books remain classics in the rare book field, was a professional book dealer and Reader in Bibliography at Cambridge University when Taste & Technique in Book Collecting appeared, four years after Morris L. Parrish’s bequest to his alma mater. News of the gift, as well as a sense of its importance, evidently got around.

The Parrish Collection deserves the recognition it received, containing as it does over 6,500 novels, periodicals, graphics, and examples of ephemera in English and American first and subsequent editions, as issued, and in exceptionally high condition. The Robert H. Taylor Collection also astonishes, illustrating the scope of English literature from the 1300s to the 1920s in over 4,000 rare books and 3,300 manuscripts. The contents of the Scheide Library, which currently include the first fourteen printed editions of the Bible, speak for themselves.

Not all collections at Princeton, though often the products of careful assembly by private hands, share a setting in Rare Books and Special Collections at the PUL. Some were also established in honor of scholars or alumnae, but are largely overlooked in well-trafficked campus areas. Others tuck themselves away into remote locations that see fewer visitors over time. Some are transformed at the requests of changing patrons; others are simply waystations for books that served bygone needs.

There are pockets of books around Princeton that run the gamut of miscellaneous libraries, from the little-known and the even less asked about, to the reinvented and the recently installed. Most reflect the commitments to scholarship of private individuals whose legacy endures in traces of ownership such as bookplates and inscriptions, even if their collecting habits lose their legibility over the years. All invite a poke through the shelves – however dusty – and a peek between the covers – however delicate – with something of the confidence of Morris L. Parrish himself, that a book “loses its purpose of existence” if it cannot be read.[2] 

…and nice, this time from the shelves of the Campus Club Library.

From the stacks of the Chancellor Green Rotunda, a message to book borrowers naughty…











The Van Dyke Library sits inconspicuously on the ground floor of the Old Graduate College, at the end of a sunken stone corridor removed from the main courtyard. Card access is restricted to residents of the GC, moreover, though perhaps in keeping with the dedication of the library in 1934 to the specific needs of graduate students. The library was organized in the memory of Paul van Dyke, Class of 1881 and subsequently professor of history at Princeton, by a committee of GC residents who selected “current books of biography, history, science and philosophy, but no fiction” for the stacks.[3] The original collection, assembled from contributions by university affiliates and purchases by the committee, still stands, although more recent additions have accumulated in the study space.

The Hinds Library also takes its name from Princeton faculty. It serves as an English seminar room in McCosh Hall and contains the collection of Asher Estey Hinds (1894-1943), whose books on literature and literary criticism have blended generously with additions from later donors. Hinds’ books have section and shelf locations penciled in on their inside back covers and often display an unassuming bookplate in the front; an inventive Hinds Library monogram also appears in white at the feet of their spines.  Newer publications often have no indications of previous ownership, but others contain inscriptions or even bookplates of their own. One such example is a book signed by Willard Thorp, who served as Holmes Professor of Belles Lettres and co-founded what is now the American Studies Program in 1942.

Hinds’ contemporary in the English Department gave his name to another library space in McCosh, almost directly upstairs from B14. Although the Thorp Library, dedicated in 1991, does not reflect Thorp’s own collection and serves instead as the departmental lounge, it recently welcomed perhaps the newest minor library at Princeton.[4] In fall of 2017, the Bain-Swiggett Library of Contemporary Poetry was installed in 22 McCosh through support from the Bain-Swiggett Fund and committee. As its name implies, the library makes a rotating, circulating collection of contemporary English-language poetry available to the university community, any member of which may borrow a book for up to two weeks and suggest new acquisitions. Updates to the inventory are reflected quarterly in the Bain-Swiggett Poetry Collection newsletter.

The Julian Street Library was established by Graham D. Mattison, Class of 1926, in memory of friend and author, Julian Street. Still housed in Wilson College, Wilcox Hall, it opened in 1961 with a selection of 5,000 books “most frequently in demand by students for broad supplementary reading” and curricular development, growing to 10,000 holdings by the 1970s.[5] Today’s academic demands probably divert attention from the remaining books themselves, which open to the Street Library bookplate and still carry loan cards in back, to the J Street Media Center, which offers access to multimedia software, a recording studio, and an equipment lending program to all undergraduates.

Princeton’s other undergraduate colleges have resident collections of their own, and libraries are fixtures in eating clubs as well. Campus Club, which was turned over to the university following its closure in 2005 after 105 years of activity, still stocks a number of books donated by club members, deaccessioned from the PUL, and removed from Lowrie House, to name just a few provenance highlights.[6] The Campus Club Library sits on the second floor of the building, although books also line the walls of the Prospect Room one floor down.

Books from the Walter Lowrie House found their way to the library in Prospect House as well – perhaps somewhat ironically, given the president’s opposite relocation in 1968.[7] The Prospect House Library resembles other minor collections around campus: its holdings, shelved floor to ceiling in a ground-floor room of the faculty club, are an assortment of recruits from the PUL, the Princeton Club of New York, private individuals, anonymous donors, and even the Julian Street Library, mentioned above.

Probably the largest “miscellany” of non-PUL books at Princeton, with perhaps the widest range of publications, occupies the two-tiered study area in the Chancellor Green Rotunda. The present iteration of the space opened in 2004, after a renovation that restored and upgraded Chancellor Green and East Pyne Hall, and the shelves were apparently rumored to remain empty.[8] A variety of books and journals, old and new, some inscribed or containing bookplates, has since relocated into the area from faculty offices and other local bookcases. One record indicates a donation by the Princeton University Archives and the Princetoniana Committee of the Alumni Council, but the books in question have by and large mingled with foreign language journal runs – mainly French and German – and worn paperbacks of classic texts. Curiously, Chancellor Green and East Pyne together served as Princeton’s university library from 1897, when the collection outgrew the former building, until 1948, when its 1.2 million volumes found ampler residence in the brand new Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library.[9]


Please comment on any prospective additions to this survey of inconspicuous book deposits in the box below. Special thanks for their valuable research assistance to John Logan, Literature Bibliographer, and Stephen Ferguson, Associate University Librarian for External Engagement.

[1] Carter, John. Taste and Technique in Book-Collecting: A Study of Recent Developments in Britain and the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948, p. 5.

[2] Wainwright, Alexander. “The Morris L. Parrish Collection of Victorian Novelists.” Princeton University Library Chronicle, Volume LXII, Number 3, Spring 2001, p. 366. http://libweb2.princeton.edu/rbsc2/libraryhistory/195-_ADW_on_Parrish.pdf

[3] “Organize New Library As Van Dyke Memorial: Friends of Late Historian Seek to Endow Non-Fiction Collection for Graduate College.” Daily Princetonian, Volume 58, Number 174, 26 January 1934. http://papersofprinceton.princeton.edu/princetonperiodicals/?a=d&d=Princetonian19340126-01.2.8&srpos=1&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN-Friends+of+Late+Historian+Seek+to+Endow+Non%252DFiction+Collection+for+Graduate+College——

[4] “McCosh Warming.” Princeton Weekly Bulletin, Volume 81, Number 7, 21 October 1991. http://papersofprinceton.princeton.edu/princetonperiodicals/?a=d&d=WeeklyBulletin19911021-01.2.5&srpos=1&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN-%22mccosh+warming%22——

[5] “Foreword.” The Julian Street Library: A Preliminary List of Titles, compiled by Warren B. Kuhn. New York and London: R. R. Bowker Co., 1966.

[6] “Renovated Campus Club to become new gathering place for students.” 14 September 2006. https://www.princeton.edu/news/2006/09/14/renovated-campus-club-become-new-gathering-place-students

[7] “Goheen To Move From Prospect House.” Daily Princetonian, Volume 91, Number 145, 17 January 1968. http://papersofprinceton.princeton.edu/princetonperiodicals/?a=d&d=Princetonian19680117-01.2.2&srpos=14&e=——196-en-20–1–txt-txIN-walter+lowrie+house——

[8] “Chancellor Green Offer [sic] New Study Space.” Daily Princetonian, Volume 128, Number 45, 8 April 2004. http://papersofprinceton.princeton.edu/princetonperiodicals/?a=d&d=Princetonian20040408-01.2.3&srpos=1&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN-Chancellor+Green+Offer+New+Study+Space——.

[9] Read about the history of the Princeton University Library and see Chancellor Green as it looked in 1873 here: http://library.princeton.edu/about/history.