An Impressive Early Basel Incunabular Bible: Giving Ocular, Tactile, and Even Auditory Pleasure


(Basel: Bernhard Richel, 8 September 1477). 425 x 305 mm. (16 3/4 x 12"). Textually Complete. 524 leaves (of 526, lacking only the two blank leaves). Double column, 50 lines and headline, gothic type. Two volumes. With additions by Menardus Monachus.

FINE NEW BLIND-RULED PIGSKIN OVER ORIGINAL BEVELLED WOODEN BOARDS BY COURTLAND BENSON (invoice with his letterhead containing a detailed account of the rebinding laid in), covers with two outer frames, central panel with a diapered field including rose stamps at the angles of the diapers, thick double raised bands over the original sewing, remnants of leather tabs in second volume, titling in blind on spines, new endpapers. Each volume contained in a very substantial and attractive double-wall drop-back buckram box, the sides of which are recessed in order to accommodate the original replaced pigskin covers. Numerous four- to 10-line initials (and some others as large as 16-line), attractively hand painted in the first volume and appearing as colored woodcut capitals in the second: THE TWO VOLUMES TOGETHER CONTAINING A TOTAL OF MORE THAN 100 of these OFTEN DECORATIVE LARGER INITIALS, the rubricated initials sometimes with decorative penwork (a few with slightly later coloring or ink illustration, including the addition of Adam and Eve in brown ink to the initial at the start of Genesis), THE INITIALS CAREFULLY HAND PAINTED IN AS MANY AS FOUR COLORS, (a few of the smaller initials also colored, and the tables at the rear of the second volume with minor rubrication, including eight inked initials with small color historiation). Both volumes with 17th century ownership inscription of the Capuchins of Eystadt (Eichstätt) at bottom of first page of text, second volume with duplicate stamp of the Munich Library at top of first text leaf. Printed in red and black, with marginal notations in ink in several early hands. Goff B-553; BMC III, 737; ISTC ib00553000. ◆One leaf with expertly repaired chip in lower corner with loss of two or three letters in five lines, several leaves at front and back of each volume repaired at gutter (without loss), intermittent dampstaining at edges (generally minor, but a little darker in a few quires and spreading further into the text on occasion, a few other minor defects, but still A VERY PLEASING COPY, the thick paper fresh, the impressions of the type deep and sharp, the margins ample, and the expert sympathetic bindings unworn.

This is an extremely appealing copy of an incunabular Bible by the third Basel printer (after Berthold Ruppel and Michael Wenssler), and the first in that city to use woodcut initials, which appeared originally in his "Spiegel Menschlicher Behältnis" of 1476 and which are found here in our second volume. According to BMC, Bernhard Richel (d. 1482) is mentioned as a printer in Basel as early as 1472, but he did not gain citizenship there until August of 1474, the year in which his first dated book (and the first book with a date to be printed in Basel) appeared. Hain and Pellechet note that the woodcut initials appear only in some copies (the Library of Congress copy, like ours, has them just in the second volume), and it seems plausible, as has been suggested over the years, that more than one printer may have been involved in producing such a massive book. The later (probably 16th or 17th century) additions to the rubrication are both a plus and a minus: the ink drawings are quaint without being of significant aesthetic benefit, but the painting of the woodcut initials is rather pleasing, being done with a broader range of colors than those of the 15th century and with an admixture of gray to keep the coloration well short of inappropriately bright. These volumes are a delight for both the eyes and fingers: the typeface has the exotic look of the early, open gothic faces (lacking in refinement, but attractively vigorous), and the leaves are made of paper so thick and with such a remarkably rugged texture that turning the pages becomes a significant tactile and even auditory experience. All of the cover decoration of our newly bound volumes has been done to match that found on one of the four original covers now inset on the sides of the folding cloth boxes. The bindings and the boxes have been done with considerable skill, and they give the feeling of great strength. This is a rare edition in the marketplace: ABPC and RBH find a volume containing Genesis through Psalms that sold in 1988 for £2,200 ($3,914) hammer and one other textually complete copy (but ex-library and "broken, waterstained, wormed, and with some leaves torn or worn") that sold in 1980 for $4,800 all in.

Price: $25,000.00

See all items by