An (almost) unbroken history


Old Library K.11.41.  Schott, Peter: Lucubratiunculae.  Strassburg : Marin Schott, 1498.

For some of the incunabula, their history of ownership is as fascinating as the book itself.  This is certainly the case with the Old Library’s copy of Lucubratiunculae by Peter Schott, published by his cousin Martin Schott in Strassburg in 1498. Peter Schott (1458-1490) was an author of humanist and theological texts and studied in Paris and Bologna.   A digitised version of Lucubratiunculae is available to read online courtesy of the Technische Universitat Darmstadt.


The bookplate of Hilprand Brandenburg in Old Library K.11.41.

The Old Library’s Lucubratiunculae has an example of what is generally agreed to be the world’s first bookplate.  This printed and hand coloured illustration of an angel holding a shield depicting an ox  was placed in books given by Hildebrand, or Hilprand, Brandenburg (1422-1514) to the Buxheim Charterhouse, a monastery of the Carthusian order.  Accompanying the bookplate is a handwritten inscription describing the nature of the donation to Buxheim Charterhouse:


Inscription describing the donation from Hilprand Brandenbery to the Buxheim Charterhouse.

“Liber Cartusien[sium] in Buchshaim p[ro]pe Me[m]mingen / p[ro]ueniens a [con]f[rat]re n[ost]ro d[omi]no hilprando Brandenb[ur]g / de Bibraco donato sac[er]dote, co[n]tine[n]s ut s[upra]/Oret[ur] p[ro] eo / et p[ro] quib[us] d[e]sid[er]auit”.

Lucubratiunculae then stayed in the library at Buxheim Charterhouse until the monastery was dissolved in 1802.  The estate, together with the library, came into the possession of Johann Friedrich, Graf von Ostein, and passed through his family until Hugo Philipp von Ostein (1820-1895) was forced to sell off much of his inheritance due to his lavish lifestyle, including the library collection.  In 1883, most of the books were sold at the auction house of Carl Förster in Munich.  However, Lucubratiunculae was most likely bought by Munich booksellers Ludwig and Nathan Rosenthal, who acquired a small portion of the collection.

Lucubratiunculae then reappears in a Sotheby’s auction catalogue of 1902 and was bought shortly afterwards by Stephen Gaselee, former Pepys Librarian and book collector.  He was a prolific collector of incunabula and left the vast majority of his collection to Cambridge University Library, save for two titles which he donated to Magdalene in 1919.

Thanks to the markings and inscriptions (or ‘material evidence’) provided in the book, and finding other evidence in auction catalogues and in the Magdalene College Magazine, it has been possible to trace the book’s provenance back to the 15th century in an almost unbroken line of ownership.  This is certainly an unusual occurrence, and elevates this book to being a highlight of the Old Library’s collection.

By Catherine Sutherland

Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections.


Magdalene College: Magdalene College Magazine. Cambridge: Magdalene College, 1919

Pearson, David: Provenance Research in Book History : a Handbook.  Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2019.

Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge: Catalogue of Rare and Valuable printed books and illuminated and other manuscripts.  London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 1902.

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