BALBUS, Johannes (d. 1298). Catholicon. [Strassburg: The R-Press (Adolf Rusch and Johann Mentelin), not after 1475].
Imperial 2o (472 x 315 mm). Collation: [1-910 108 1110 12-138 14-1810 198 20-2110 22-238; 24-3110 328 33-3410 3512 368 37-4010 418 426] (1/1 blank, 1/2r grammar and dictionary A-I; 24/1r dictionary K-Z, 42/6 blank). 400 leaves. 65 lines, double column. Type 2:100G. One- to ten-line initial spaces, a few with printed guide-letters. Unrubricated. Traces of contemporary manuscript quiring in arabic numerals in center of lower margin on last versos. (13/3.6 supplied from a shorter, rubricated copy, 31/7r with two lines imperfectly printed and retraced in contemporary manuscript, 36/3r and 40/8v with the last line of the page printed faintly, unobtrusive repairs to blank margins of ca. 5 leaves.) 19th-century black morocco antique over heavy wooden boards, by Blunson & Co., preserving a number of deckle edges; edges gilt, spine lettered in gilt: CATHOLICON FRATRE IOHAN DE IANUA EDITIO PRINCEPS CIRCA 1445 (slight wear).
Provenance: George Washington Moon (1823-1909): large leather bookplate with gilt monogram and motto Astra castra, numen lumen, presumably bound for him; Moon was the author of The "65-line A" Catholicon: The Oldest Type-printed Book in Existence (London 1901), in which he claimed that this edition of the Catholicon was the earliest printed book -- Lord Peckover of Wisbech (1839-1919), bequeathed to Miss Algerina Peckover, sold at Sotheby's, 24 May 1938, lot 313 -- Clifford Rattey (bookplate, pencilled notes on flyleaf).
Third edition, preceded by Gutenberg's 1460 edition (and subsequent impressions) and Gunther Zainer's 1469 edition. The Mainz and Augsburg editions of the Catholicon were set from different manuscripts, but the present Strassburg edition was set partly from Gutenberg's text, partly from Zainer's. This version seems to have served as the basis of many, if not all, later incunable editions of the Catholicon (cf. G. Powitz, in Wolfenbttler Notizen zur Buchgeschichte, vol. 13, 1988, p. 136). A popular Latin encyclopedia with a prefatory grammatical treatise, the Catholicon was a standard reference work in the later Middle Ages. It survives in many manuscripts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and was printed in 24 incunable editions.
None of the books printed in the R-Press type 2 are signed or dated. Traditionally the R-Printer, named from the unusual form of capital "R" used with his Roman type, has been identified with Adolf Rusch, a son-in-law of Johann Mentelin. The press is, however, more correctly described as a partnership between the two printers. In a letter of 18 February 1478 the city council of Lbeck asked that Mentelin and Rusch return a manuscript of Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum doctrinale which had been loaned to them, a circumstance which must be related to the unsigned edition of this work printed in the R-Press type 2 (Goff V-278=V-279). Since this type includes capital sorts from R-Press type 1, it is likely that R-Press type 1 was also used by Rusch and Mentelin in partnership. Their joint venture seems to have lasted from ca. 1473 until Mentelin's death in 1478. Although the books printed in R-Press type 2 have previously been assigned to dates as early as ca. 1470, the apparently early inscriptions used to justify this dating have been discredited, and the paper stocks used by the press cannot be traced before ca. 1473. (Cf. Doheny I, 16; Jean-Luc Kahn, in Bulletin du bibliophile, 1990, pp. 360-364.)
The earliest rubrication date associated with the present edition of the Catholicon is 1475, found in the Freiburg im Breisgau copy (Sack 427). A second R-Press edition of the Catholicon was printed between 1475 and 1477, also in imperial folio format; it has 67 lines per page and 372 folios.
AN EXCEPTIONALLY TALL AND FRESH COPY. HC 2253; BMC I, 64 (IC. 663); BSB-Ink. B-10; CIBN B-15; GW 3184; Pr 247; Goff B-22.
Moon, George Washington. The "65-line A" Catholicon: The Oldest Type-printed Book in Existence, London: Privately printed, 1901. No. 231 of 241 copies. Tipped-in: autograph letter signed from L.A. Sheppard of the British Museum to Clifford Rattey, 28 January 1952, regarding Moon's thesis and the evidence for dating R-Press books. (Front wrapper detached, back wrapper missing.) (2)