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Medieval and Renaissance Facsimiles and Incunables: A Resource Guide



The Rare Book and Special Collections Division has an impressive array of late medieval texts. Notable among their medieval holdings is their incunabula collection, which number approximately 8,000. Incunabula (incunabulum in the singular), is Latin for cradle or swaddling cloth and in this context means the "infancy of printing." Incunabula refers to those early books which were printed between 1450 and 1501. The Rare Book and Special Collections Division houses the largest collection of incunabula in the western hemisphere. To find incunabula in the Library of Congress, use the following sources in the tabbed box below or contact the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room. All original incunabula must be requested in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room. This does not apply to reproductions of incunabula.

To search for incunables, go to our online catalog and under the browse feature, search for "incun" under CALL NUMBERS (LC Class NO.). You will be directed to a list of those which are available to be requested in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room.


The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection contains rare books from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries, incunables, and a handful of medieval and renaissance manuscripts. The collection contains 2,653 items of which many date from the late medieval period.

To browse the items in the Rosenwald Collection, consult the collection's catalog The Lessing J. Rosenwald collection : a catalog of the gifts of Lessing J. Rosenwald to the Library of Congress, 1943 to 1975

Some of the items in the collection have been digitized and are available online: The Lessing J. Rosenwald collection

The Otto Vollbehr Collection is a large collection comprising 3,114 individual volumes printed in 635 different presses. The items range from 1490-1820. When the Library of Congress purchased the collection in 1930, it quadrupled the number of incunabula the Library had at that time. A finding aid for the collection is available: Otto Vollbehr Collection of Printers' and Publishers' Marks

The Microform Reading Room, (part of the Research and Reference Services Division) has a microfiche collection containing thousands of incunabula. The collection is called Incunabula the printing revolution in Europe, 1455-1500. Based on the Incunabula Short Title Catalog (ISTC) at the British Library, this microfiche collection reproduces full-text editions of incunabula from libraries around the world. The texts are arranged around subject themes, such as: law, medicine, philosophy, classical texts in translation, romances, geography, cosmography and journeys of discovery, chronicles and historiography, and provide for the study of early book production in the first stages of European printing. A guide to the collection can be found in the Main Reading Room.