Incunabula Project

Arnold Carl Klebs in His Study at Nyon, 1933

Bibliography of Scientific and Medical Incunabula

The last decade of Klebs’ life was especially devoted to his ambitious incunabula project. He hoped to publish a catalog with full entries for scientific and medical incunabula. To accomplish this, he collected a huge amount of information, especially photostats of images, from a number of libraries on their holdings of incunabula. In 1938, he published a short-title catalog (i.e. brief entries), Incunabula scientifica and medica, of all known scientific and medical incunabula. This was Klebs’ major historical accomplishment and remains an important reference source today. He still hoped to publish the larger work, but did not complete it. All his notes and a draft are in the Arnold Carl Klebs Papers at Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University Library.

Arnold C. Klebs, “Gleanings from Incunabula of Science and Medicine,” reprint from Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 26 (1932): 52-88. Harvey Cushing’s copy.

Short-Title Bibliography of Scientific and Medical Incunabula, 1938

This was Klebs’ master work, published as a volume of the journal Osiris edited by pioneer historian of science George Sarton at Harvard, and also published separately. It provides a “short” entry for about 3000 editions of over 1000 incunabula on scientific and medical themes. At the end is a cross-reference list of authors’ names. It is a major work of reference that continues to be cited whenever a book dealer offers for sale an incunable listed in the catalog. Klebs collected material for much more expanded bibliographical entries, but was unable to complete the larger project. The research materials are in the Klebs Papers at Manuscripts & Archives.

Laurentius Rusius. Liber marescalciae equorum. [Speier: Johann and Conrad Hist, not after 1489]

Incunabula, Klebs 869.1

Klebs did not purchase many incunabula himself. Instead, he encouraged Cushing to buy them and acted as intermediary with book dealers in Europe. Here is an incunable that Klebs did acquire, on veterinary medicine, published in 1489 or earlier. After printing, red and blue lettering were added by hand to give the book more the look of a manuscript. It was listed as item 869.1 in Klebs' bibliography.

François Xavier Laire, Index librorum ab inventa typographia ad annum 1500; chronologice dispositus cum notis historiam typographico-litterariam illustrantibus. Senonis: apud viduam et filium P. Harduini Tarbe, 1791.

Reference Incunabula Collection

More so than incunabula themselves, Klebs collected the research materials to study incunabula, that is bibliographies of incunabula, works on printers, typefaces, woodcuts, library catalogs of incunabula, and bibliographies of imprints from particular places. These books, some very large and costly, form the basis of the Medical Historical Library’s Reference Incunabula collection. Shown is an early work from the collection (1791) by a French librarian and bibliographer. In two volumes, it listed books printed from the invention of typography to 1500 (i.e. incunabula) arranged chronologically. In this section, Laire notes the Bibles printed before 1460.

Photostat Copies of Incunabula

Although there were no photocopiers in Klebs’ day, Klebs was able to acquire readily photostats of incunabula from various libraries. With copies of incunabula, he could compare editions. In cases in which he had photostats of the entire text, he bound them in vellum and labeled them himself.

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