The word incunable derives from incunabula, Latin for "cradle", and signifies printed books produced during the first decades of movable type printing in Europe, around 1450 to 1500. In these tentative years the printed book in many ways resembled the medieval manuscript , e.g. often lacking information about author and title.

It is estimated that more than 40,000 titles were printed during the incunabula period, in a total of over three million copies. Of these titles, more than 8,000 were different editions of the Bible. In addition to this, there were also broadsheets and ephemera of various kinds. The production was thus substantial, all made possible by the rapid spread of the art of printing. Around 1500, there were book printers in virtually all European countries.

Umeå University Library holds 7 incunables (see list below). The majority of these came to the library through the acquisition of Professor Olof Östergren’s book collection in 1968. Like most of the early printed books, the language is Latin and the subject is mainly theology. For example, two of these incunables, Inc. 6 and 7, are works of the Cistercian founder, Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153). The exceptions from theology in subject are Strabon's Geographia (Inc. 3), one of the most renowned and early geographical descriptions of the known world, and Claudianus' Opera (Inc. 5). Almost all of the bindings of the incunables at Umeå University Library are of a later date than the insert. However, contemporary , or at least near contemporary, are Inc. 4, the bindning of which consists of a parchment with musical notes, and Inc. 7 which has a binding consisting of thick wooden boards.

Incunables are now considered rare. The extant copies held at various libraries can be searched in, for example, the Swedish national union catalog LIBRIS or the international British Library Incunabula Short Title Catalogue.

LIBRISBritish Librarys Incunabula Short Title Catalogue


Inc. Reference
1 Augustinus, Aurelius, Augustinus super Johannem. Basileae: 1485. 406 s. Proveniens: O. Östergren
2 Biblia latina. Nuremberg: Caspar Hochfeder, [not after 1493]. 401 bl. Proveniens: O. Östergren
3 Strabon, Geographia., [Tarvisii]: 1480. 637 s. Proveniens: O. Östergren
4 Augustinus, Aurelius, Opuscula. Strassburg: Martin Flach, 1491. 253 bl. Proveniens: O. Östergren
5 Claudianus, Opera. Ed: Thaddaeus Ugoletus. Parma: Angelus Ugoletus, 1493. Proveniens: O. Östergren
6 Bernhard av Clairvaux, De consideratione. Add: De conflictu civitatis Babylon et Jerusalem [Pseudo- Bernardus (GW)]. Liber Cypriani de duodecim abusionum gradibus [Pseudo- Aurelius Augustinus (GW)]. Augsburg: Anton Sorg, 1475-1477. Proveniens: O. Östergren
7 Bernard av Clairvaux, Sermones beati bernardi abbatis clareauallis incipiunt feliciter. Speyer: Peter Drach, 1482. 306 bl. Proveniens: Sundsvalls stadsbibliotek