Nuremberg Chronicle

The Best Survival from the Printing Revolution of the 15th Century

Nuremberg Chronicle

Between 1450 and 1500 thousands of texts were set in print by the presses of Europe. Today we can still count 28,000 editions and half a million copies, preserved in the 4,000 public libraries of Europe and the United States, a very happy and formative chapter of our shared European heritage. The Library of Lincoln College partakes in such heritage, with its 40 incunabula. In recent years much attention is given to unica and rara, what survives in very few copies, often in a single book. From December 2016 it is actually possible to be very precise on this topic: the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) of the British Library, the database which brings together data from all over the world - and was converted by CERL, the Consortium of European Research Libraries, into the same data model of the database which I created, Material Evidence in Incunabula - counts 8,054 editions which survive in a single copy, just under a third of the entire surviving production.

Therefore I would like to draw the attention to a much rarer case, the single edition which survives today in the highest number of copies, over one thousand!

It is the 1493 Nuremberg edition of Hartmann Schedel’s Liber chronicarum, commonly known as Nuremberg Chronicle, printed by the most experienced and commercially savvy printer of the city, Anton Koberger (d. 1513), the godfather of Albrecht Dürer, on commission for the merchants Sebald Schreyer (d. 1520) and Sebastian Kammermeister (d. 1503).

The edition, a large folio size of paper, presents 1804 beautiful woodcuts by the Nuremberg artists Michael Wohlgemut (d. 1519) and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (d. 1494), including a map of the world and one of Europe. Is this the reason for the astonishing survival?

Most of the woodcuts consist of maps of European cities, sometimes realistic, sometimes less so. In fact 641 woodblock are used and re-used more than once; see for example the map of Anglia, re-used to illustrate the Italian city of Ravenna...

To help detecting these and other cases of re-use, copy, and exchange of illustration, by the same and different printers, in the same or different towns, the 15cBOOKTRADE is working in collaboration with the Visual Geometry Group led by Prof. Andrew Zisserman of the Department of Engineering Science of the University of Oxford. They devised for the project an image-annotation and an image-matching software to support and advance the scholar’s ability to carry on this kind of time-consuming investigation. Matilde Malaspina (DPhil student, Lincoln College) is the member of the 15cBOOKTRADE project working on this topic.

The book was first used in Karlstadt (Bavaria) by the Albertus who leaves marginal notes on the front page, before moving to the UK where other early marginal notes are added. It was given to the College by Nathaniel Crew (d. 1721) in 1703, as it is shown by his armorial bookplate.

IMAGES: Venice (probably a close up); destruction of Jerusalem; Anglia and Ravenna (which are the same!); marginal annotations in an early German hand revealing the annotator’s name, Albertus of Karlstadt; Crewe’s bookplate.

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Further reading:

Adrian Wilson, The making of the Nuremberg chronicle, Amsterdam, A. Asher, 1976.

Christoph Reske, Die Produktion der Schedelschen Weltchronik in Nürnberg = The production of Schedel's Nuremberg chronicle, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 2000 (Mainzer Studien zur Buchwissenschaft vol. Bd. 10).

See a digital reproduction and description of the Cambridge University Library copy on

A list of all the surviving copies can be found in the ISTC record

with links to at least 9 digital copies reproduced in full, from German, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish, and US libraries.

Further links can also be found in the description of this edition in the Gesamt Katalog der Wiegendrucke

On the work that the 15cBOOKTRADE is doing with image-matching see

A copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle will feature in the exhibition “Printing r-evolution and society 1450-1500. Fifty years that changed Europe”, organised by the 15cBOOKTRADE, which will open in Venice, Museo Correr, in September 2018.


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