G-60. Introduction to 15th-Century Printing

Paul Needham

The use of a wide variety of evidence – paper, type, rubrication and illumination, bindings, ownership marks, and annotations &ndash to shed light both on questions of analytical bibliography and wider questions of book distribution, provenance, and use. There will be a fairly detailed discussion and analysis of both good and bad features in existing reference works on early printing.

This course is intended to serve as a general introduction to bibliographical analysis. Its examples and methods are primarily derived from C15 printing, as this is a period commonly overlooked or only summarily treated by the standard guides. Copy-specific features of books will also be examined, for the same reason that the standard guides generally neglect them.

Note that this course is not a general historical introduction to incunabula; the primary purpose of the course is to encourage a way of bibliographical thinking that should prove useful in the analysis of all books, early or modern.

Students should have already taken the RBS Descriptive Bibliography course (G-10) or its equivalent. Since so many of the books studied will be in Latin, some familiarity with that language will be an advantage. In their personal statement, students should indicate the extent of their proficiency with descriptive bibliography and with Latin.

Course History

Paul Needham teaches this course, as "Introduction to 15th-Century Printing."
Paul Needham teaches this course, as "Physical Evidence in Printed Books."
This course is not currently being offered. Please do not list on any RBS fellowship or scholarship applications.

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Paul Needham

Paul Needham

Paul Needham became Scheide Librarian at Princeton University in 1998 and retired in 2020. Before coming to Princeton, he worked at Sotheby’s and at the Pierpont Morgan Library. Among his books is Twelve Centuries of Bookbinding: 400–1600 (1979). He has given Rare Book School courses on early printed books both at the Morgan and at the Huntington.

Courses Formerly Offered

  • Physical Evidence in Early Printed Books (1988–1991); The Use of Physical Evidence in Early Printed Books (1993, 1996–1999)
  • The Study of Incunabula (1983–1984, with Felix de Marez Oyens)
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