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Haebler’s specimens

Konrad Haebler (1857-1946) was born in Dresden. He studied linguistics at the University of Leipzig and worked as a librarian in Dresden and later at the Royal Library in Berlin. He became one of the best-known bibliographers of his age. His standard works on incunabula and early bindings are still admired today. His classic study on The Early Printers of Spain and Portugal was published in March 1897. The book was printed for the Bibliographical Society at the Chiswick Press in London. This bibliography of Iberian incunabula and early printed books through 1502 contains a historical essay on the evolution of printing in Spain and Portugal, and concludes with a bibliography of issues of the press there. In all, 600 books are described and the study includes thirty-three illustrations of woodcuts and early devices.

Haebler also carried out research on so-called blind-stamped panels. These are designs impressed on the leather of a book cover by means of a single engraved wood or metal penal bearing a complete design. They came in use in the thirteenth century, chiefly in the Netherlands. As printing spread in the late fifteenth century the sheer demand for books called for more efficient binding. Panel stamps and roll tools were used as a means of adding decoration to the covers. Haebler’s research was published in his Rollen- und Plattenstempel des XVI. Jahrhunderts (1928/9) which is a standard reference work on such panel stamps and roll tools. Thousands of rolls and stamps are described, often with reference to their users and manufactures.

Perhaps his most important contribution was Haebler’s research into differing type founts. He continued the work that had been initiated by British colleagues. William Caxton, who had brought the art of printing from Flanders to England, used ten different type founts to print 105 titles of incunabula in Bruges and Westminster. Caxton’s name is printed in forty-two of the titles, and the year of printing is mentioned in only nineteen of them. A detailed study of these founts was undertaken by William Blades which enabled him to identify unnamed works of Caxton’s and the years in which they were printed.

Cambridge University librarian Henry Bradshaw used facsimiles of the type fonts created by J.W. Holtrop of the Royal Library at The Hague in order to classify incunabula in a manner similar to that used in natural history. He developed a methodology by which each press was looked upon as a genus, and each book as a species. It was up to the researcher to trace the connexions of the different members of the family according to the characters which they present to his or her observation. Robert Proctor of the British Museum followed in his footsteps. In 1903, he published an index in which he arranged the incunabula owned by the British Museum in the order of the printing year. He also initiated a project to publish facsimiles of type founts, but died before completing the work. His method of type identification was to measure the height of twenty lines with accuracy down to units of millimeters.

Haebler made an even more exhaustive effort to compile a list of types used by each printer. To facilitate distinguishing one type from another, in addition to measuring the height of twenty lines of types, he classified the shapes of the Gothic letter ‘M’ into 101 patterns (258 classes). Between 1905 and 1924, they were published as Typenrepertorium der Wiegendrucke. In conjunction with this work, facsimiles of type fonts were produced in Germany. During the period from 1907 to 1939, a total of 2,460 sheets of type facsimiles were published. Haebler’s list of type fonts distinguished the type of each printer by numbering them in the order of printing. The union catalogue of incunabula, Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, used Haebler’s reference numbers for the entry of type used in each incunabulum.

Conrad Haebler – the greatest expert on incunabula ever – published five boxes with original pages from incunabula in an edition of 112 copies. This is a leaf from Wynkyn de Worde (= from Woerden in Holland) edition of Chronicles of England (1497) Hain 4998. The two typefaces are based on French examples (WdW types 3 and 5) and are Wynkyns own.

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