Since 1962, Bridwell Library has built one of the finest collections of fifteenth-century printed books held in America. Numbering more than one thousand volumes, Bridwell’s collection of pre-1501 imprints is not merely a gathering of early typographic specimens. It is a rich and wide-ranging library of fifteenth-century reading material that reflects the mainstreams of European theological and humanist thought during the Renaissance period. Based on Classical, Christian, and medieval traditions, the early printed editions represented here helped lay the spiritual and intellectual foundations of the modern age.
This exhibition presents sixty books and broadsides printed between c. 1455 and 1500. The selections highlight unique copy-specific characteristics that focus attention on the various ways in which Europeans in past centuries discovered the power and potential of Gutenberg’s invention. Early readers were not content to leave their books exactly as they came off the presses, but were inclined to engage in their contents mentally and to intervene in their appearance physically. Employing local artisans to provide rubrication, illumination, and bindings, readers added their own annotations, inscriptions, and other signs of ownership and use. As a group, the exhibited items reflect the active participation of countless individuals in the initial spread of printing across Europe.