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Friday, April 20, 2012

Lacking directions but following clues, or, CSI Special Collections

So what does she know about this book that I don't?
From Joseph Neusinger's Papatus nunquam errans in proponendis fidei articulis
(Augustae [Augsburg]: Typis Joannis Michaelis Labhart, 1709).

Cataloging rare books and manuscripts can be a lot of fun--most of the time.  There are occasions when one wants to throw one's hands in the air and cry "alas and alack" (or in this case, perhaps "alas and a lack," but more on this below).

Today I am going back to some of the many "problem" titles that are left from a big cataloging project that our library undertook in the years 2004-2008. The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library is responsible for a collection of about 10,000 rare book titles, spread across three different sub-collections. When we started a Mellon Foundation-funded cataloging project in 2004, about 1100 of these titles had been cataloged. The rest had either 1) never been cataloged (but listed in a short-title catalog), 2) cataloged on paper in Dewey classification; 3) cataloged on paper in Library of Congress classification, or 4) none of the above.

Initial from an uncataloged 1514 Basel edition of the Plenarium, or collection of pericopes in German.
After four years, we had added about 8400 or 8500 rare titles to our online catalog.  Since 2008, I have been cataloging little pockets of materials as I have identified them or as I have found spare time (please don't tell my boss about finding spare time ...) to spend researching incomplete items.  It is some of these incomplete volumes (hence the "lack" mentioned above) that I wish to discuss today.

Johann Neusinger. Papatus numquam errans ... (Augsburg, 1709).
Note the confusing title of De Romano Pontifice,
taken from the caption title. The original
cataloger identified the author as Neusingen, not Neusinger.
Many uncataloged items in our arrearages are there because they are incomplete in some way (e.g., perhaps they might be isolated volumes of a large multi-volume set) or because they are combined with other titles in a particularly daunting manner (see my earlier post on "Enough already."  Sometimes, the books merely lack some pages.  Unfortunately, the page that is most often (or most noticeably) wanting is the title page.

Neusinger's title page from the Internet, with earlier cataloging card.
It is amazing how dependent modern readers became upon the title page for information identifying a book.  The earliest printed books did not have title pages--nor colophons, nor pagination, nor lots of other things we take for granted.  For a while in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries printers and publishers kept much of the most important information about the book in a colophon at the end of the volume.  Here we could find the title of the book, perhaps its author, the publisher's name, the place of publication, the date of publication, and other salient facts that would distinguish one edition of a work from another.

Antonio Pereira de Figueiredo's De non definita in concilio Tridentino (Olisipone, 1766). Note the somewhat unhelpful generic title given by a previous owner ("Dissertatio historico-theologica"), and the partial name of the author.  Fortunately, about 30 pages into the book one can find the actual beginning of the text with a caption title that matches the title page title. No copy of the text was found online, but another institution had already cataloged a copy that appears to match this title (which apparently was only published once).

In the sixteenth century this information moved to the title page for the most part, and now we look there first for a book's identification, and then to the colophon, if there even is one.  But what if the title page is no longer in the book?  There are many reasons a book may lack a title page, which I won't expand upon here, except to say that many of HMML's books are likely remnants of European monastic collections which were "secularized" at some point in the eighteenth or nineteenth century (we know this is true of about 1100 books that came from two Bavarian monasteries). Since title pages often have ownership notes or stamps on them, it is possible that many were removed to obscure the origin of the volumes a long time ago.

Plenarium, dated 1514 (Basel) according to a handwritten note on the book. The volume is lacking its title page and colophon.

One of the wonderful woodcuts in the Plenarium, a collection of Gospel and Epistle readings arranged for the liturgical year.

So close, but no ...  The Bavarian State Library reports two editions of this work published in 1514 in Basel.  They even had pictures of one of these editions available through VD16.  Unfortunately, as we can see, the two pages are dissimilar enough to indicate that this is NOT the item they have photographed. I am still waiting for pictures of the second edition to be put onto the Internet.
HMML has several such works lacking title pages and/or colophons.  Among these are a printed book of hours, a Plenarium (or collection of Gospel and Epistle readings in the vernacular), partial works by Virgil and Pliny the Elder, a commentary on the Song of Songs by Jaime Perez, a collection of inscriptions from the earlier basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome, and several others.

As a cataloger, these books pose special problems, however.  One needs to identify the author and title, and--especially in the case of popular works--the printer, date and place of publication.  Without these, it becomes nearly impossible to identify the work in one's hand.  One movement toward such identification came in the massive 800-volume National Union Catalog of title before 1956.  Today, catalogers and others turn first to WorldCat (OCLC), where nearly all known printed editions are represented.  However, to search a database like WorldCat, one needs certain details--author, title, publication data, etc.

The second volume of Pliny the Elder's Natural History in a 1608 edition from Frankfurt. By searching clues like the commentary by Paolo Cigalino and the printer's device (which also appears at the back of the book as a colophon), I was able to narrow the probably candidates as a matching edition.
I have worked through various sources to identify several of our books in recent months.  With the unprecedented access to catalogs from other countries, I have identified books and editions with the help of WorldCat, VD16 (16th-century books printed in Germany), VD17 (17th-century books printed in Germany), the ESTC (English Short Title Catalogue, the ISTC (Incunabula Short Title Catalogue), as well as services like the Bibliotheque Nationale's Gallica, union catalogs in Italy (SBN), other national library catalogs and union catalog interfaces from across Europe.  And of course, there's always Google, Google-Books, and numerous digitization projects across Europe and North America.

Finally, one example of a search:  HMML has a volume whose handwritten title page identified it only as Canones et decreta omnium Conciliorum usque ad Tridentinum, compiled by Barth. Carranza.  No dates were given, no publisher, etc.  One important clue was the colophon that indicated that the book had been printed at the shop of "Ioan. VVithagij." in Antwerp, Belgium. On the following page was a publisher's device, which I was eventually able to trace to the family of Ioan. Steelsij.  The most commonly reported editions in WorldCat did not match in the number of pages, an important attribute for preliminary comparisons.

Eventually, I was able to establish that most editions I had found were published by the widow of Joannes Steels (as the Library of Congress identifies him in the LCNAF).  This narrowed my focus to 16th-century editions of Carranza's compilation. Since later editions included later Councils, it seemed likely that this edition must have appeared within a couple decades after the end of the Council of Trent, as suggested by the handwritten title. In final desperation, I searched for the name "Carranza" in Google Books, limiting the dates to 1550 to 1560.

Sure enough, Google has a digitized version of the entire book in a copy from the Bavarian State Library. I was able to compare numerous pages and verify that this was the same edition that HMML has.  With that, I was able to print out a surrogate title page to identify our copy (to keep with the book) and to identify a record in WorldCat that matched our copy.

Today, Carranza is on the shelf in the appropriate place!  Now to find some more missing title pages (if I can find any spare time ...).

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