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Senate House Library


The Collection

Subject: Book History

The collection comprises 134 books and fragments which were printed or formerly thought to have been printed before 31 December 1500. They begin with Pablo de Santa Maria’s Scrutinium scripturarum (Strasbourg: Johann Mentelin, [not after 1470]).

Over half the books were printed in Italy. Other books stem from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, and the Low Countries. Five English incunabula include two Caxtons and Pynson’s Canterbury Tales, annotated in a contemporary hand and using Caxton’s woodcut illustrations. The language of the texts is predominantly Latin, with some books in Italian, English, German, and Dutch.

Items range from iconic but common books such as the editio princeps of Euclid’s Elements (1482), the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) and the Koberger Bible (1477), each in two copies, to the very rare: Coniuratio malignorum spirituum([Rome: Eucharius Silber, ca. 1486-1487]) is one of only two known copies; Bernat de Granollachs’s Lunarium ab anno 1491 ad annum 1550 ([Lyons: Johannes Siber, 1491]) is the sole complete copy; and several other books are the sole editions in the United Kingdom. The incunabula are a mixture of books which had formerly circulated as manuscripts and books which first appeared in printed form; books with and without title pages; foliated and non-foliated books; illustrated books and completely plain ones; books with and without such manuscript intervention as initial capitals of differing levels of complexity and attractiveness.

Several incunabula have been annotated. Some have famous provenances, such as Syston Park and the collection of the German collector Georg Kloss. A couple have contemporary or near-contemporary bindings.

Senate House Library received its first incunabula in 1871 as part of the De Morgan library. More arrived as part of various other named special collections, most notably the Durning-Lawrence, Harry Price, and Littleton collections. Still others came from the dispersal of other libraries (New College; London Institution), as single donations, and by purchase (1941-ca 1970).


For an overview of the collection, do a mixed classmark search on [Incunabula]. Some of our incunabula are available to library members digitally, on the Augustus De Morgan Collection, part I, Making of the Modern World, and Bloomsbury Medieval Studies.

Related material

  • De Morgan Library
  • Durning-Lawrence Library
  • Harry Price Library of Magical Literature
  • Sterling Library
  • Littleton Collection

Further reading

  • Attar, K. E., ‘Augustus De Morgan's Incunabula Contextualised’, in Spotlights on Incunabula: Production, Reception, Collection, ed. by Anette Hagan (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming 2021)
  • Attar, K. E., ‘Incunabula at Senate House Library: Growth of a Collection’, Library & Information History, 25 (2009), 97-116.
  • Attar, K. E., ‘What, How and Why: Accessing Incunabula at Senate House Library, University of London’, Alexandria, 20 (2008), 105-20.
  • Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC). This provides a record of all the incunabula and will link to other libraries’ copies of some titles.
  • Wild, Margery F., Incunabula in the Libraries of the University of London: A Hand-List (London: University of London, 1964)
  • Entries 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in Senate House Library, University of London, ed. by Christopher Pressler and Karen Attar (London: Scala, 2012)