Incunabula makes impression

Collection of historical manuscripts on display at Douglas

Incunabula included 24 historical manuscripts.
Incunabula included 24 historical manuscripts.

From the rich gold leaf décor of the byzantine era to the bright colour and detail of the gothic era, analyzing text is an effective way for us to learn about the society that was prominent during any given time in history.

Dating back to the mid-1400s when the first moveable type hand printing press was invented by Johann Gutenberg, the ancient books on display at Incunabula: An Exhibit on 15th Century Printing hold much of the history of language and print within them.

The second floor of Douglas library is home to the W.D. Jordan Special Collections and Music Library, where around 24 books and manuscripts are enclosed behind glass cases, welcoming curious students to take a look.

The items were taken from Queen’s University Library’s collection, as well as Principal Daniel Woolf’s personal collection.

The first case when entering the exhibit holds three books of differing sizes.

The biggest book, with its browning pages, stands apart majestically from its smaller counterparts. The parchment leaves — commonly made of cow, sheep, or goat skin or bark — used as paper for the book showcase the precision that went into hand printing the calligraphic letters of the time. Although each letter is small, none lack detail. No trace of error was found throughout the perfectly spaced Latin scroll.

The largest book in case number one is Fasciculus temporum (the first universal chronology) written by Werner Rolevinck, a Carthusian monk. The book chronicles the biblical creation — or year one as it’s commonly referred to — all the way to the time of the book’s creation in 5983 B.C. This brings context to the everyday life as well as the belief system of that time.

The other four cases include works of text and manuscript such as Biblia integra written by Basel Johann Froben in 1491, and Juvenal’s 1475 Satires.

Several of the books on display include annotations by famous historians such as Domizio Calderini and Nicholas de Lyra, which provide greater context to the writings.

Beyond showcasing the books themselves, the exhibit focused largely on the styles of calligraphy, language and decorative detail used during that time, documenting the drastic change in lettering styles through history.


All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.