The Fifteenth Century Book
1490: Printing the Scriptores Historiae Augustae
Our copy of the Scriptores Historiae Augustae was printed in July, 1490 at Vercellensis’ print shop in Venice. The city of Venice in 1490 was an important trading port, a bustling commercial center, and home to some of the most successful of the early printers. Vercellensis used many of the typical methods of the day to create his books, and their individual descriptions provide more evidence of the way an early printed book was constructed.
The letterforms used in the Scriptores Historiae Augustae are easily interpretable by modern readers, as they are a form of a Roman letter, much like the ones we use today. Vercellensis likely purchased this font of type, perhaps from another printer. Roman letters became common in Italian printing, particularly in Venice, where their use and arrangement defined Venetian books as different from German printing, which tended to use a medieval black letter and two-column layout similar to earlier manuscript practices.
Some incunabula are dated by identifying the type a printer used. The type used by Joannes Vercellensis for this book is identified by the BMC as:
82R. [P.2], small text type with single Qu, as Scotus 80 R., or Locatellus 80 R., but S leans slightly to the left. The dot of I is light and to the right of the shaft, q is heavy, 3 being high up the letter and its tail not cutting that of q. Indistinguishable from the first state of Capcasa 82 R. (1489) which is probably the same type passed on. Brought from Treviso and in use throughout. For reproduction see Capcasa.
82 Gk., lower-case only, with accents and breathings, mixed with larger sorts. Mostly indistinguishable from Ratdolt 91 Gk., with both curl-headed and triangular δ as in that type. In use 1488-1490. (plate XXXVI illustrates both of these)
The paper used in the book has a watermark of a scale. Sometimes it is possible to identify the papermaker by the watermark, which is a design in the paper where the paper is thinner than the rest of the sheet. At times it can be easier to see the watermark if back lighting is used to illuminate the page in the book, as can be seen in the picture on the right. The watermark is a scale in a circle, a popular motif from the late fifteenth century.
Physical Construction of the Book
Scriptores Historiae Augustae is a folio, meaning it was printed on single sheets of paper that were folded to create four pages - two sheets with two sides. This was a common format for early printed books to be printed in, although there were other formats that required the paper to be folded several more times, resulting in a smaller book. Some smaller books were being produced in the late fifteenth century, but larger folio sizes were still quite common.
One method that bibliographers have developed over the years to communicate detailed information about a book is Descriptive Bibliography, a means of describing the physical characteristics of a book. A “collational formula” is defined by Phillip Gaskell as a “formula, which includes both the format and the collation or detailed register of signatures, serves the dual purpose of showing how the book was—or ideally should have been—constructed, and of providing a system of reference to its parts.” Early books usually have letters or numbers on pages to indicate to a binder how the pages should go together.
Our copy of the book can be described as: Folio. A8, B-Q6, R8.  leaves, with a preliminary blank leaf and two vellum leaves bound in. This means the first section has 8 pages, the next sections have 6 pages each, and the last section has, again, 8 pages.
If you compare our book to others, you’ll see that our copy does not have the a-c8 d-k6 pages (Other forms of the book: Folio. a-c8 d-k6; A8B-Q6R8, 172 leaves, 66 blank.). This is because our copy of this work does not contain the Suétone, De Vita XII. Caesarum, which was issued separately in some cases, and at the beginning of the work in others.
The entire formula for the listing of Scriptores Historiae Augustae, 15 July 1490, in ISTC looks like this:
1b. Versus Ausonii in libros Suetonii.
2a. Domitii Calderini Viri clarissimi de uita Caii Suetonii tranquilli.
2b. IN HOC CO||DICE CONTINEN||TVR CAIVS SVETONI/||VS TRANQVILLVS DE. XII. ||CAESARIBVS. AELIVS SPARTIA/||NVS. IVLIVS CAPITOLINVS. AELIVSLAM||PRIDIVS. TREVLLIVS POLLIO. FLAVI/||VS VOPISCVS. EVTROPIVS. ET || PAVLVS DIACONVS. DE RE||GVM AC IMPERATO/||RVM ROMANO/||RVM VITA.
3a. C.SVETONII TRANQVILLI DE VITA. XII. CAESARVM LIBER PRIMVS.
65a. Registrum. Ibid., par. 2: Tetrastica de Caesaribus post Tranquillum.
67a. AELII SPARTIANI DE VITA HADRIANI IMPERATORIS AD DIOCLITIA/||NVM AVGVSTVM.
172a. COLOPHON: In hoc codice continētur uitæ imperatorum romanorum a diuo Iulio Cæsare usque ad Nume/||rianum a diuersis auctoribus elegantissime compositæ. |||…|||Habes candide lector Cæsarum uitas paruo ære: quas olim anxius quærebas maxima lucubra/||tione a uiris præstantissimis emendates.||Quæ omnia accuratissime Venetiis impressa sunt per Ioannem Rubeū de Vercellis anno a na||tali christiano. M. cccc. Lxxxx.die. xv Iulii.|||FINIS.
Next - 1490S: Binding