Catholicon

GIOVANNI BALBI (d. 1298).
Catholicon.
Mainz: [Johannes Gutenberg?], 1460. (06096)

The Mainz edition of the Latin dictionary known as the Catholicon 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 penwork 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.

View the complete book courtesy of Princeton University.

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Beginnings in Mainz
Balbus, Catholicon, 1460