A census of Bookbindings on Incunables began at Princeton University in 1999 as an effort to identify bindings on fifteenth-century printed books in Firestone Library. Numerous other library collections have since been added to the project. My initial goal in undertaking this census was to determine for each collection which incunable copies retain their contemporary Gothic bindings.
Surviving Gothic bookbindings can tell us much about the distribution of texts in the period of early printing, since in the fifteenth century printed texts were commonly shipped as bundled sheets, and were then bound at the locale of the institution or individual acquiring the copy. I have tried to identify the region of each binding’s origin (Germany, Italy, and so forth) and, whenever possible, attribute bindings to particular cities or workshops. Such attributions are generally based on the stamps used in the binding's decoration. Because I come to the census project as a binder and conservator, however, I have also recorded structural aspects of the bindings (e.g., covering material, endbands, sewing methods, clasps and furniture, binding waste). Documenting these features will add to our knowledge of regional binding characteristics and specific workshop practices.
For each library, every incunable binding—regardless of period—has been included in the census. This makes it possible to identify later significant bindings and can further contribute to our understanding of rebinding practices, incunable collecting, and the history of libraries. The census project, as well as this website, is organized by the Goff numbering system, even though many libraries do not use Goff numbers for their catalogue entries, call numbers, or shelf marks. Nevertherless, the Goff system seems the most reasonable way to bring the copies in various American collections into relationship with one another.
The census is an ongoing project, and in the years ahead I hope to continue to include incunables from many more libraries. This website represents a selection of bindings from the census; others will be added as time and resources permit. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are very welcome.
Grand Marais, Minnesota