Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books
A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology

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incunabula ( incunabulum, incunable )

Books and all printing from movable metal type which can be dated before the year 1501. The date limitation probably derives from the earliest known catalog of incunabula, an appendix to Johann Saubert's Historia bibliothecae Noribergensis…catalogus librorum proximis ab inventione annis usque ad a. Ch. 1500 editorum, 1643. "Incunabula" derives its name from the Latin "cunae" (cradle) and refers to books produced in the infancy of printing. The term may also be used to designate works created during the earliest stages in the development of an art form or technique or at the beginning of any new period of artistic productivity.

In a general sense, the term "incunabula" can be used to refer to printed works of a time so early in the history of printing in a given locality that such printing may be said to be in its infancy; thus it is possible to speak of American incunabula, Arizona incunabula, etc. With regard specifically to printing, however, and unless stated otherwise, the term is used to refer to the products of the European press of the 15th century.

Incunabula were usually simply bound in leather-covered boards with decoration in blind. However, their collectors later often had them rebound in more sumptuous covers; consequently original bindings are now relatively rare. (69 , 140 , 255 )

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