Epistolae familiares

The roman type, now very common, is hardly ever found in incunabula printed in the Low Countries. In the fifteenth century only a Louvain printer, Johannes de Westfalia, made serious attempts to introduce roman type in the Netherlands.

His largest book in this typeface is the collection of letters by the humanist Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (1404-1464), who became Pope Pius II in 1458. Some twenty editions of this work were published in the fifteenth century, in different versions. This 1483 edition must have sold well and enjoyed lasting interest. More than 60 extant copies have been traced, making it into one of the best preserved incunabula printed in the Netherlands. It is second only to the Dutch translation of Rolewinck's Fasciculus temporum, a history of the world from the Creation to the Present (1480), of which there are more than a hundred extant copies, while it surpasses the more than fifty copies of the Delft Bible of 1477 that have come down to us.

Johannes de Westfalia's total output amounted to more than 160 editions, of which only some forty bear dates. The present edition of the Epistolae is exceptional in that the compositor changed systems during its actual printing. For the last part of the book, over 200 pages, the slash, used originally as a punctuation mark, is also used to divide words at the end of a line (cf. lines 19 and 25 on the opposite page).

When the Librarian Johan Willem Holtrop (1806-1870) compiled the catalogue of the incunabula of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek he arranged them chronologically by country, place and printer. One of his underlying principles in arranging the Westfalia editions was the use of this slash or hyphen, as is apparent from his catalogue and the actual location of the books on the shelves. To the left of the 1483 ‘mixed’ Epistolae edition we find the incunabula with slashes that do not indicate word divisions (to be dated as ‘not after 1483'), to the right those that do (to be dated as ‘1483’ or after).

Epistolae familiares. Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini [Pope Pius II]. Epistolae familiares. Louvain, Johannes de Westfalia, 1483. 2º, 304 leaves. - Provenance: Jacob Visser collection, 1809. - 169 E 18, fol. pp4r

Epistolae familiares. Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini [Pope Pius II]. Epistolae familiares. Louvain, Johannes de Westfalia, 1483. 2º, 304 leaves. - Provenance: Jacob Visser collection, 1809. - 169 E 18, fol. pp4r

Literature

J.W. Holtrop. *Catalogus librorum saeculo XVº impressorum, quotquot in Bibliotheca Regia Hagana asservantur. Hagae-Comitum 1856, I 95
Konrad Haebler, 'Die Drucke der Briefsammlungen des Aeneas Sylvius', in: Gutenberg Jahrbuch 14, 1939, p. 138-152
Henry Bradshaw's correspondence on incunabula with J.W. Holtrop and M.F.A.G. Campbell. Dl. 2. Amsterdam 1978, p. 291
H.D.L. Vervliet, 'Humanisme en typografie: de introductie van de romein en cursief in de Nederlanden (1483-ca. 1540)', in: Boek, bibliotheek en geesteswetenschappen. Opstellen. Dr. C. Reedijk. Hilversum 1986, p. 316-330.