A Fine Contemporary Copy with All that Makes the Book So Celebrated: The Publisher's Binding and 109 Large, Memorable Hand-Colored Woodcuts


(Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 17 February 1483). 415 x 290 mm. (16 3/8 x 11 1/2"). Textually Complete. Text in double column, 50 lines, gothic type. (Without one flyleaf.) Two volumes. The Ninth German Bible.

Excellent contemporary Nuremberg "Koberger Publisher's" binding by the so-called Schedel Meister, featuring blind-stamped calf over thick wooden boards, upper covers with two frames, the outer one decorated with rosettes connected by leaf-wrapped staffs, the inner one stamped with repeating floral sprig lozenges, these frames enclosing a central panel with blind-tooled vines forming ogival compartments, each of these containing a botanical stamp, both volumes titled in blind at head of outer frame; lower covers with similar outer frame, inner frame with repeating griffin stamp, central panel with either botanical (volume I) or double-headed eagle (volume II) stamps, covers with intricately tooled brass corner- and centerpiece bosses, raised bands, original brass clasps and catches with newer leather straps, (spine of first volume restored ca. 1900, with newer endleaves). Capitals struck with red, more than 1,000 three-line Lombard initials in red, blue, or green, hundreds of slightly larger initials in red, blue, or green, some with penwork extensions, dozens of six- to eight-line initials in red and blue, some with pink and green penwork infilling, volume II opening with two six-line initials in blue or pink with white tracery on a background of delicately etched burnished gold, with acanthus leaf extensions, and 109 WOODCUTS BEAUTIFULLY COLORED BY A CONTEMPORARY HAND. Rear pastedowns with book label of Alexander Schippan. Goff B-632; BMC II, 424; ISTC ib00632000. For the binding: Schunke/Rabenau 11, 205; Kyriss 11, Tafelband 117. Thin vertical crack to spine of volume II, minor crackling or chafing to leather, other insignificant external wear, but the contemporary volumes handsome, sturdy, and well preserved. Inner margin of the opening five folios of the first volume expertly renewed without loss of text, the next 60 leaves with expert repair at the bottom of inner margin, occasional faint dampstains, smudges or small stains to margins, other trivial imperfections, but A VERY FINE COPY, the text clean, fresh, and bright, the margins ample, and the hand coloring extremely rich.

This is a memorable copy of one of the most attractive and important German incunabula, found here in a contemporary binding commissioned by the publisher, the text embellished with many hand-painted initials, and with more than 100 large, striking, and brilliantly hand-colored woodcuts. Called in German the "Kobergerbibel" after its publisher, it was the ninth Bible to be printed in the German language. Undoubtedly the most prosperous printer-publisher of the Renaissance, Anton Koberger (1440-1513) is closely associated with the most famous illustrated incunabulum, the "Nuremberg Chronicle" of Hartmann Schedel, but his Bibles are equally evocative of the incunabular era. And this ninth German Bible is generally acknowledged as the printer's second most celebrated and beautiful book--and by a wide margin when it appears, as here, with its most desirable attributes. The woodcuts are by the "master of the Cologne Bible" and were clearly influenced by Dürer's biblical illustrations. In the extraordinary half-page woodcut of the Creation, a circle of approving angels encloses the vast deep of the ocean teeming with sea monsters, within which is the round, verdant island of Eden, from which God gently raises Eve by the hand from the side of sleeping Adam. While this may be the most well-known image in the work, there are many illustrations with great appeal, especially when found, as here, with skillful contemporary coloring. Having stood up well over the years, the colors here are exceptionally rich, very opaque, and applied with delicacy. The bindings are of a type known as "Verlagseinbände." While Koberger did not have his own bindery, he did employ several Nuremberg bookbinders to cover volumes in a distinctive style referred to (in English) as "Koberger Publisher's bindings." The very pleasing bindings here are the work of the Schedel-Meister, so called for the bindings he regularly executed for Koberger's most famous production. They can be identified by his rosette, griffin, and staff/leaf stamps. The decorative initials in volumes I and II are the work of two different artists. Those in the second volume are more graceful and elaborate, and that volume also contains the one illuminated initial. This set has a distinguished provenance: it was formerly in the Austrian library of Ernst-August, King of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland, and Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1771-1851), and subsequently in the collection of German bibliophile Dr. Alexander Schippan (1889-1975). While Koberger Bibles appear at auction from time to time, copies that are complete, well-preserved in original Nuremberg bindings, and with handsomely colored woodcuts are rare. ABPC lists only one—the Pfeiffer copy sold at Sotheby's in 1980 for a hammer price of 23,000 ($55,000)—that is comparable to the present item.

Price: $175,000.00

See all items by