Johannes Balbus. Catholicon. Mainz: [Johann Gutenberg, first impression], 1460. (06096)
The Catholicon is a Latin dictionary with grammar compiled by a Genoese Dominican, Johannes Balbus, who dated the completion of his work 7 March 1286. Almost one-third longer than the Latin Bible, it remained the standard Latin dictionary until the 16th century. The Mainz edition of the Latin dictionary seems to represent a long-forgotten alternative printing technology introduced at Gutenberg’s “second” press. According to recent analysis, the 1460 edition of the Catholicon was printed not with normal moveable type, letter by letter, but with metal slugs that fused together two complete lines of text. These two-line slugs, stored away in anticipation of future demand for this popular dictionary, evidently were used again after Gutenberg’s death in 1468 to re-issue the lengthy book without any resetting of moveable type.
Unlike copies from the later issues, Bridwell Library’s Catholicon was printed on paper with a Bull’s Head watermark. It is therefore from the original 1460 edition attributed to Gutenberg himself. Its rubrication is Netherlandish in style, with red and blue initials ornamented in crimson, green, and mauve, with fine pen work extensions. This foreign rubrication demonstrates that early printers were able to sell books that were published without decoration, and that there was an international market for printed books exported from Mainz.