Manuscript copies of Ruralia Commoda were popular (over 100 copies are known), making it an excellent candidate for the new technology of printing. The editio princeps appeared in 1471: in Latin, un-illustrated, it was printed by Johann Schüssler of Augsburg. Another 36 incunable editions exist, most printed in Germany. Peter Drach of Speyer printed a German-language edition in 1493; this edition has 234 woodcuts. Drach's workshop (one of the period's most prominent) also printed a Latin edition that utilized the same woodcuts, and the Library of the Arnold Arboretum's incunable was part of that edition (similar copies exist in the Royal Collection and in the library of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden). The text is arranged in two columns throughout, and blank spaces have been left at the beginning of each chapter for an initial (in the Library of the Arnold Arboretum's copy a previous owner has added the first few initials of Book 1 by hand).
Arnold Klebs describes the plentiful woodcuts - they occur at the beginning of most of the chapters - as "the most remarkable group of middle Rhenish woodcutting in the 15th century." Dating of the illustrated Latin edition is difficult: did it precede or follow the German edition of 1493? Anderson prefers the Latin version to antedate the German version. But the Latin version has more woodcuts (primarily in Book 10, on hunting, fishing, and falconry), which may indicate that it post-dates the German.
When and where was it bound? The binding is of the "schoolbook type," half-leather (probably calfskin) over oak boards. Thick oak boards with beveled edges, brown calfskin with pictorial blind-tooling, double cords and catch/clasp fastenings are all typical of 15th-century Northern European bindings. This style dates the binding to approximately the same time and place as the textblock. The oak boards may indicate that this binding was a product of Germany's once-vast oak forests and that it was bound relatively close to where it was printed.
Certain touches indicate that the book held special importance for its owner: the embossed brass catches and clasps and the elaborate blind-stamped images of a hunt scene, for example. The style and components of the binding suggest that it is original to the textblock. Repairs were done to the book, perhaps in the early 20th century. Along with many of the Library of the Arnold Arboretum's finest holdings, it was transferred to Houghton Library in 1947, and came to its present location on Divinity Avenue in 2006.
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Last updated September 2011.
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