The Gerson incunabulum

The University of Melbourne’s Rare Books Collection holds around 30 incunabula, or early printed books. ‘Incunabula’ is a term given to books produced in the cradle days of book printing, generally pre-1500, and they are distinct from manuscripts, which are hand-written. One of the University’s incunabula was published in 1489 and was authored by Jean (Johannes) Charlier de Gerson (1363-1429), a French scholar devoted to the study of the Catholic Church, who published extensively throughout his life. The title Opera means ‘Work’, and the book appears to be one of three volumes comprising a treatise on the Catholic Church. This first volume is subtitled Prima pars operii Johannes Gerson, meaning ‘The first part of the works of Johannes Gerson.’

The typography is a plain Gothic type, and the text features substantial rubrication, or the addition of red highlighting or markings to a text after it has been printed which may be seen in a sample page. Even after the advances of printing, rubrication often continued to be done by hand, however, if there was substantial rubrication throughout a text, it may have been produced by a second printing using red ink. More

Image: Woodcut attributed to Albrecht Dürer in Jean Gerson'sPrima pars operii Johannes Gerson, Nuremburg: Georg Stuchs, 1489. Rare Books Collection, University of Melbourne