By: Jennifer Baker
contributed by Beth DeBold.
The Special Collections Research Center owns two large sets of books, printed approximately prior to 1700. The first is the complete works of Pedro Calderón de la Barca, a Spanish poet and playwright, and the second is the complete works of Aristotle.
The Complete Works of Pedro Calderon de la Barca
Printed between 1698 and 1731, Calderón’s works are spread out across nine volumes. This set presented something of a mystery to me, as the printing years did not correspond neatly with the volume numbers. For example, the first part was printed in 1726, while the ninth part was printed in 1698. In between, the volumes jump from 1715 to 1731. Additionally, several different printing houses printed different volumes. However, all the volumes NCSU owns appear to have been bound and kept as a set for some time, as their bindings are identical vellum covers dating from approximately the eighteenth century, with the title, author’s name, and volume number inked in similar handwriting and design along the spines. The sole exception is volume six, which has been rebound in a different, likely mid-twentieth century binding. Since it’s missing the title page, it is unfortunately impossible to tell when it was printed, or by whom.
Primera Parte de Comedias, 1726
The most likely explanation for the variation in printers and dates is that printing houses sometimes collaborated on large works such as this. Philip Gaskell, in his A New Introduction to Bibliography, notes “individual volumes of four collections of plays by Calderón were set at two or three separate printing-houses in Madrid in the 1670s.” Although these volumes were published between 1698 and 1731, it is possible that they might be a product of that concurrent production. But how were these volumes collected, and bound as a set? We may never know.
The Complete Works of Aristotle
The set of Aristotle’s works is similarly mystifying. All the volumes are bound in potentially contemporary vellum with gold decoration, or “tooling”, overlaying the simple ink inscriptions on the spine. This seems to indicate that the eleven volumes have also been kept together as a set for some time. All of the volumes were printed in 1560, excepting the eleventh and final volume, which was printed in 1562. Tridino Montisferrati, a Venetian printer, printed each one in NCSU’s set. Again, although it seems likely that this set has stayed together since the sixteenth century, it could be impossible to tell without intense study. Even then, we would never be completely certain regarding its specific history. The formation and planning that went into printing a set is a fascinating subject, and one into which I hope to delve more deeply in future research.
If you are interested in this or any of the other books that have been discussed in this blog, please contact the Special Collections Research Center .
Gaskell, P. (2012). A new introduction to bibliography. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, p. 168.