William Caxton's Golden Legend
Among the Auckland Libraries collection of incunabula - early printed books - is a copy of the Golden Legend printed by William Caxton in 1483, which is one of only 33 surviving copies in the world.
|Detail of the Golden Legend; the printed English is comprehensible to the modern reader.
|Caxton's printer's mark, in the Boke of Eneydos, 1490.
Auckland Libraries holds three Caxton publications, all donated by Governor George Grey: The Polychronicon, printed in 1482, a history of the world from the Creation to the present day originally written in Latin by Benedictine monk Ranulf Higden more than a century earlier. There are only 32 surviving copies in institutions around the world according to the ESTC (English Short Title Catalogue).
|The Boke of Eneydos.
Hagiography was a popular subject at this time, and Jacobus de Voraigne's text was extremely widely read. Once printing was invented in the 1450s, editions appeared quickly in almost every major European language, as well as in the original Latin. Up to 1501, it was printed in more editions than was the Bible. Caxton's translation was first printed in 1483, and was reprinted multiple times, with a ninth edition published in 1527.
|The Golden Legend.
Recently, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections staff had cause to look more closely at our copy of the Golden Legend for an international research enquiry undertaken for Dr Takako Kato of De Montfort University in Leicester, U.K. Here are some of features of interest that distinguish our particular Golden Legend.
|Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections staff member with the Golden Legend.
|Binding of the Auckland Libraries copy of the Golden Legend.
There is damage to most pages in the Auckland Libraries copy. Water stains occur throughout different sections, and corners or sometimes whole sides of a page are torn or missing. There is not much in the way of marginalia as the margins of the original pages have been closely cropped. Tears in the pages have mostly been mended with small patches of tissue paper.
|Damage to these pages has been patched; the difference between the original medieval paper and the more modern border is clear.
|Stitched repair to a damaged page.
|Watermark in the design of an Agnus Dei, lamb of God.
|Illustration of Noah's Ark.
The variations in style of the rubricated initials helps to indicate whether different scribes worked on the text. A small guide letter is printed in the space to signal to the scribe which letter was needed. Although the initials in this edition of the Golden Legend are not as decorative as those in some other medieval manuscripts and books, they are still stylised and elegantly drawn.
Can you identify these letters? (Answers at the bottom of the page!)
|Printed initial T in the Boke of Eneydos, 1490.
Close study of texts such as these allows scholars to build up a more detailed picture of how books were produced, distributed, and used in the past. The Golden Legend is important due to its cultural influence, but also as an example of early printing at the beginning of an age of more widespread literacy, in which more value began to be placed on writing and reading in the English language.
(Initial answers: T, S, M, F, E)