Editor’s Note: Today’s post by Regan Kladstrup is cross-posted here and at the Penn Rare Books Cataloging blog. Regan and her team do an amazing job with our unique items and I’d encourage everyone to check out their ongoing provenance identification project here.
One week a month is devoted to cataloging incunables, the first books printed after the invention of movable type in the second half of the 15th century. Incunables are a joy to catalog. There is so much to describe: rubrication and other ornamentation, illustrations, binding, paper size, text measurements, etc. Cataloging an incunable is also a great opportunity to do some serious provenance research.
This month, Incunable Week brought some of the best incunables in Penn’s collection to Liz Broadwell’s desk. The standout was H-151 (we use Goff numbers to identify our incunables), a 1474 edition of Hierocles’s commentary on the Golden Verses attributed to Pythagoras. This is a pretty common incunable—lots of institutions have one.
But nobody has our H-151.
Penn’s copy was owned by the humanist scholar Johannes Cuno (1463-1513). In a very pleasing hand, he has supplied several pages of missing text and written marginal notes throughout. Cuno has also signed the colophon and included the price he paid for this book.
But what really makes this copy special is Cuno’s transcription of the original Greek text and Latin translation of the Golden Verses inserted on four leaves at the end. Cuno’s Greek and Latin penmanship is beautiful … at first. By the end, his writing is nearly illegible. Why?