Collection history: When the KB was founded in 1798 its collection contained some incubabula from the Oranje-Nassau library. These were subsequently supplemented with collections from private collectors.
Size: The collection comprises ca. 2000 books.
Access: The incunabula can be found in the KB Catalogue, and also in the copies of Incunabula in Dutch libraries (all incunabula) and Campbell's Annales (Dutch editions), both annotated with shelf-numbers, in the Special Collections reading room.
More information: Marieke van Delft - 070 3140329.
Printer's mark (in red) of Gerard Leeu. Jacobus de Voragine. Passionael, Winterstuc. Gouda, Gerard Leeu, 31 July 1478. IDL 2581. Shelfnumber 170 E 17(I), f. aa7v.
Chronike of Historie van Hollant, Zeelant ende Vrieslant ende van den sticht van Utrecht. Leiden, (Heynricus Heynrici), 9 juli 1483. IDL 3310. Shelfnumber 150 C 28(1), f. a2r.
Guillaume de Digulleville. Boek van de pelgrim. Delft, Hendrik Eckert van Homberch, 5 april 1498. IDL 2167. Shelfnumber 169 G 92, f. a1r, title page.
Watermark: unicorn, horizontal, to left, mark right, vgl.Piccard X Fabeltiere, Einhorn III 1519 (1481). Jacobus de Voragine. Passionael, Winterstuc. Utrecht, Johan Veldener, 12 september 1480. IDL 2583. Shelfnumber 168 E 30(I) ,f. b5 (XIII). Electroradiography.
Watermark: letter gothic p with four leaf clover, to the left, mark right. Not in Briquet and Piccard. Hieronymus (pseudo-), Van den leven der heiliger vaderen. Gouda, Gerard Leeu, 3 december 1480. IDL 2321. Shelfnumber 170 E 26(I), f. q4.
On a world-wide scale, the incunabula collection is medium-sized. The significance of the collection lies in the number of printed books from the Low Countries, the present Netherlands and Belgium. In the fifteenth century, around 2200 editions were printed in the Low Countries, and the KB, numbering over 900 copies from this period and area, boasts the largest collection by far. The few incunabula from the Orange-Nassau library which entered the KB upon its foundation in 1798, supplemented in 1807 with the Romswinckel collection of mainly foreign printed books, did not become an actual collection until 1809, upon the acquisition of the entire collection of early printed books owned by Mr. Jacob Visser (1724-1804), state prosecutor, collector and author of the first bibliography of incunabula from the Low Countries. Besides a collection of manuscripts, over 400 incunabula entered the KB as part of the Visser collection.
Other important acquisitions were the printed books from Tongerlo abbey in 1828, with 70 incunabula and the blockbook Biblia pauperum, the manuscripts and 125 incunabula which were discovered at an attic in Maastricht in 1840, and a collection of manuscripts and 50 incunabula which a clergyman found in a cabinet in the rectory at Weesp, and which he handed over to the KB in 1847 after having catalogued them.
The first separate handwritten catalogue was compiled as early as 1829, and in 1856 librarian Johan Willem Holtrop published a catalogue which ever since has been considered the first scholarly incunabula catalogue. Particularly the 569 printed books from the Low Countries have been described elaborately here (including addenda), as well as the nearly 100 Dutch printed books which were not kept at the KB but in another collection at the Hague, the Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum.
The most prominent foreign places of printing in the collection are: Cologne (360 editions), Venice (181), Strasbourg (114), Paris (88), Basel (65) and Nuremberg (56).
The incunabula are entered in the card catalogues, and listed in the copies of Incunabula in Dutch libraries (all incunabula) and Campbell's Annales (Dutch editions), both annotated with shelf-numbers, in the Special Collections reading room. Without shelf-numbers, but with references to Incunabula in Dutch libraries (IDL) and Campbell's Annales (Camp) the incunabula can also be traced back in the computerised catalogues:
Incunabula Short-Title Catalogue (ISTC), a British Library database numbering almost 30,000 titles. With cooperation of the KB, all incunabula in Dutch collections or printed in the Netherlands have been recorded in this world census of incunabula. The ISTC is available on cd-rom under the title Illustrated ISTC. Over 4000 titles are accompanied by illustrations of one or more pages.
Short-Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN), only titles printed in the present Netherlands, excluding the Southern Netherlands.
In 1999 Incunabula printed in the Low Countries, a census (ILC) was published. In ILC, over 14,300 copies of the more than 2200 editions printed in the Low Countries are registered.
The entire scope of woodcuts of incunabula printed in the Low Countries in the KB, completed with those from the Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum, in all 2800, together with 4000 miniatures, can be consulted at the Special Collections reading room on a videodisc, the Dutch Royal Library Disc.
As to the incunabula printed in the Low Countries of which the KB does not own a copy, for most editions there are photographs, microfilms or microfiches of copies held elsewhere in the world available for consultation .
The acquisition and provenance, former owners, of the incunabula have been registered in a filing card system.
Particularly for the purpose of a more precise dating of the many incunabula which up to now have only been dated on the basis of typeface, the paper of the incunabula printed in the Low Countries is under examination. More than 17,000 rubbings were made of the watermarks in 2000 editions of which one or more copies have been examined. These can be consulted according to book, printer and image. For the reproduction of the watermarks (which for a long time was a serious impediment in paper research), apart from rubbing techniques, much use is also made of advanced electron radiography in cooperation with the Röntgen Technische Dienst at Rotterdam.
The database can be searched at: watermark.kb.nl.
- J.W. Holtrop. Catalogus librorum saeculo XV impressorum, quotquot in Bibliotheca Regia Hagana asservantur. Hagae-Comitum 1856.
- M.F.A.G. Campbell. Annales de la typographie Neerlandaise au XVe siecle. La Haye 1874. Suppl. I-IV, 1878-1890.
- W. & L. Hellinga. The fifteenth-century printing types of the Low Countries. Amsterdam 1966.
- Incunabula in Dutch libraries. Editor-in-chief G. van Thienen. Nieuwkoop 1983.
- C.H.C.M. Kok. De houtsneden in de incunabelen van de Lage Landen 1475-1500. Amsterdam 1994. Proefschrift Universiteit van Amsterdam.
- Incunabula printed in the Low Countries, a census. Edited by G. van Thienen & J. Goldfinch. Nieuwkoop 1999.