Found: One Incunable!

As a rare books cataloger, I have learned to trust my predecessors.  (Or, as one of my instructors in the art of bibliography put it, to cheat.)  The notes they have left about an item are usually correct; the habit of checking for such indications has spared me many times from reinventing the wheel.  But every now and then I do have to play wheelwright:  updating old conclusions with new research, remedying oversights, correcting errors.

And occasionally — very, very occasionally — I find something everyone else has missed.

According to its shelf-list card, Folio GC5 H7480R 522d in the Penn Libraries German Culture Class Collection contains two items:

An edict describing measures, financial and other, to meet the threat of the Turks, given at Coblenz in 1522(?) … With this is a 14-line broadside … designed to accompany this or a similar proclamation, and announcing a meeting of the Reichstag in 1523.

The University of Pennsylvania purchased these items in 1955 from a Dutch antiquarian bookseller, A.L. van Gendt.  Their accession record notes that they were acquired with a set of sixteenth-century broadsides, primarily decrees of the Holy Roman Empire.  The shelf-list card quotes the accession record’s description of the 1522 edict verbatim, suggesting that the identification came from van Gendt.  He, in turn, may have been following a German note penciled at the foot of the document’s first page:

Beschlüsse … der Reichsstände zu Coblenz zur Abwendung der Türken- u. Franzosengefahr!  Ca. 1522 [i.e. Decisions … of the estates at Koblenz for averting the threat of the Turks and the French! Ca. 1522]

Since this item is otherwise undated, it seems likely that the impetus to assign it to the early sixteenth century comes from its association with the 14-line broadside publicizing the diet at Nuremberg in 1523.

Unfortunately for van Gendt’s bottom line, however, the two are unrelated.

The so-called 1522 edict is, in fact, an incunable, a product of the first half-century of European printing (ca. 1452-1500).  According to ISTC ir00135500, its entry in the standard bibliography of incunabula, it was produced by Peter Schöffer of Mainz, Germany, in 1492.  Schöffer (ca. 1425-ca. 1502) learned his trade under Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450s, but testified against his master in a lawsuit brought against Gutenberg by his financial backer, Johann Fust.  Schöffer then went into partnership with Fust himself, marrying Fust’s daughter after his death in 1466.  By 1492 Schöffer was well-established in the trade, having published a number of significant books (such as the luxurious Mainz Psalter and the illustrated Gart der Gesundheit) and introduced several technical innovations (among them, color printing).

Device of Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer

Device of Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer,
later used by Schöffer alone.

The Abschied des Reichstags zu Koblenz, 1492, as the ISTC titles it, is a mundane piece of work by comparison.  A four-page document printed on a single folded folio sheet, its sole decorative element is a large printed initial “D” in the upper left margin of the first page.

The resolutions it records from the 1492 Diet of Koblenz bear on issues of perennial concern to the Holy Roman Empire of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries:  the threat of encroachment by the Ottoman Turks from the east and the French from the west, the need to raise money to support military conflicts with these powers, and the equally pressing need for allies against them.  Several measures in the Abschied were part of a plan “for an improved military and fiscal constitution for the Empire” proposed to the Diet by Maximilian, King of the Romans (later Emperor Maximilian I) (Hartung 96; see also Wagner 558ff).  But conflicts of interest between the Emperor and the rulers of the Empire’s constituent states undermined any chance of comprehensive imperial reform at this time:  “[T]he whole plan for an imperial and military constitution petered out” (Hartung 98).  The amicable relations to be furthered with the Pope (probably the newly enthroned Alexander VI) and the King of England (Henry VII), on the other hand, would eventually bear fruit against France in the formation of the League of Venice in 1495.

Ephemera of this kind tend not to survive in great numbers:  ISTC records only nine examples, all in European libraries.1  Fortunately for bibliophiles on this side of the Atlantic, this newly discovered copy of the Abschied des Reichstags zu Koblenz, 1492 will be available for perusal as soon as it is housed in a portfolio with its new call number, Folio Inc R-135.5, and joins the rest of Penn’s incunables in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. And I will return to cataloging our German Culture Class Collection with a sharpened eye and, perhaps, a slightly diminished propensity to cheat.


1Two in the Stadtarchiv Nürnberg and one each in the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt, the Stadtarchiv Frankfurt am Main, the Kestner-Museum Hannover, the Historisches Archiv der Stadt Köln, the Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv München, the Stadtarchiv Speyer, and the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv in Vienna.  The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke records a tenth copy in the Archives de la ville de Strasbourg.

Works Cited

Hartung, Fritz.  “Imperial Reform, 1485-1495: Its Course and Its Character.”  Pre-Reformation Germany.  Ed. Gerald Strauss.  New York: Harper and Row, 1972.  73-135.

Wagner, F.  “Das dritte kaiserliche Buch der Markgrafen von Brandenburg.”  Forschungen zur deutschen Geschichte 24 (1884): 475-564.

Liz Broadwell has a doctorate in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania and catalogs rare books in the Special Collections Processing Center.

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