The Incunable Collection

The word incunable is used for a work printed with moveable type up to and including 1500 AD. The word incunable, which comes from the Latin "incunabula",  meaning cradle or swaddling clothes, is used for publications from the first decades of printed books.

The printed catalogues for Uppsala University Library's incunables includes 2,500 works. Over and above these there are 38 duplicates and 15 printed books acquired after 1964.

The incunable collection mirrors the history of Uppsala University as well as the history of Swedish and European libraries from the end of the 15th century. The collection consists not only of important parts of the preserved remains of Swedish monastic libraries, but also large and small book collections from private libraries, monastic libraries and ecclesiastic libraries throughout Europe. Among the most important donations to Uppsala University in this respect are those of King Gustav Adolphus, the founder of Uppsala University Library. These donations include the larger part of the library on Gråmunkeholmen ("the Island of the Grey Monks") in Stockholm and later also the books that formed part of the war booty from Swedish battles in central Europe and the Baltic region.

A study of the provenance of the books in the printed catalogues reveals a broad spectrum of princes, noblemen, priests, scholars and burghers with an interest in books. In some cases the collection can contribute to a reconstruction of complete privately owned libraries such as the library of Nicolaus Copernicus. The greater part of his extant library is held in the Uppsala University Library's collection of incunables and is accessible as the separate collection Copernicana:

Of the 2,500 titles in the printed catalogues, just over 1,000 were acquired post 1907. This is mainly thanks to the generosity of some donators specifically Tore Virgin (130 items), Erik Kempe (144 works), Erik Waller (150 works) and Richard Du Rietz (264 works). Hans Sallander states in the prefaces to his catalogues of the incunables acquired after 1907 that the number of printers represented had grown by 78 for the years 1907-1953 and an additional 68 for the years 1954-1964. This is significant in respect to the importance of the incunable collection: the collection contains examples of a large number of printing presses from the incunable period in relation to its size and is therefore of considerable value to research into the history of books and printing. Over and above this is the great cultural-historical and scholarly value of the texts themselves. These two criteria, the value for the history of printing and the texts' scholarly importance, are criteria used for selecting new acquisitions.

As part of a project to list all incunables in Sweden, over 4,000 records with information about the holdings, have been registered in the national search service Libris:


  • Isak Collijn, Katalog der Inkunabeln der Kgl. Universitäts-Bibliothek zu Uppsala. - Uppsala-Leipzig, 1907

  • Hans Sallander, Katalog der Inkunabeln der Kgl. Universitätsbibliothek zu Uppsala: Neuerwerbungen seit dem Jahre 1907. - Uppsala ... 1953. - (Bibliotheca Ekmaniana; 59)

  • Hans Sallander, Katalog der Inkunabeln der Kgl.Universitätsbibliothek zu Uppsala: Neuerwerbungen der Jahre 1954-1964 nebst Kurztitelverzeichnis sämtlicher Inkunabeln in der Universitätsbibliothek.- Uppsala ... 1964. - (Bibliotheca Ekmaniana; 63)


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