Atlas of Earyl Printing

An Incunabula Reader

Our current state of knowledge about the earliest years of European printing is formed from extensive study using both traditional bibliographical analysis as well as new scientific and digital techniques. This research carries on a longstanding tradition in incunabula studies, which began in earnest in the 19th century. This page contains links to some recent examples of incunabula scholarship, as well as some of the bibliographic works that set the parameters of the field over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The First Quarter Century of Printing
Paul Needham, The Scheide Library, Princeton University
A series of three lectures presented March 18, 19, and 21, 2013 as the 2013 University of Pennsylvania Libraries A.S.W. Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography.

This series of three hour-long lectures, available here for free in mp3 format or mp4 with slides included, is one of the most up-to-date and comprehensive overviews of the invention and early spread of European printing. Delivered by Paul Needham, the world's foremost authority on the Gutenberg Bible and the earliest printing, these lectures are an invaluable contribution to the current state of knowledge regarding 15th century printed books.

First Impressions: The Printing Press
Hala Auji, Michael Bhaskar, Cristina Dondi, John Man
An episode of BBC World Service program "The Forum"

This link provides both a streaming and downloadable audio file featuring a panel, including Cristina Dondi of Material Evidence in Incunabula and 15cBOOKTRADE, discussing the invention of printing. An accessible, introductory discussion.

Caxton and the Printing Press
Richard Gameson, Julia Boffey, David Rundle
An episode of BBC Radio 4 program "In Our Time"

Another BBC offering, and another panel discussion, this audio program considers the work and lasting influence of the first printer in England, William Caxton.


While catalogs can be difficult to navigate for a non-specialist, they contain the best record of how our understanding of incunabula developed. The Introductions also frequently explain methodologies and provide important background information.

An Index to the Early Printed Books in the British Museum: From the Invention of Printing to the Year MD. With Notes of Those in the Bodleian Library
Robert Proctor, 1908.
Vol 1:
Vol 2:
Proctor's work, building on methods first employed by Henry Bradshaw, established new directions in the effort to identify and sensibly arrange the mass of incunabula and early printed books dispersed across many different collections throughout the British Museum (the library portion of which is now the British Library).

Catalogue of Books Mostly from the Presses of the First Printers Showing the Progress of Printing with Movable Metal Types Through the Second Half of the Fifteenth Century. Collected by Rush C. Hawkins, catalogued by Alfred W. Pollard and deposited in the Annmary Brown Memorial at Providence, Rhode Island.
Alfred W. Pollard, 1910
This catalog represents an approach to the spread of printing realized through collecting, by obtaining a copy of the first work from the first presses in each European town in which printing arrived.

Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century Now in the British Museum
British Museum. Department of Printed Books.
This is the first volume of the monumental work usually referred to as simply "BMC." The introduction to this volume is of particular importance in outlining the arrangement, attribution, and study of incunabula.