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The farmer’s manual, Pliny and the printer

October 11, 2011

Now I have your attention I would like to tell about a couple of items in the Special Collections in the library where I work and why they are considered so.

The farmers manual

For instance, Ruralia commoda  by Petrus de Crescentius   the oldest printed book in the University library.  De Crescentius (1230-1321) who lived in Bologna was a scholar of logic, medicine and natural science, and later he studied law and served as a judge in Bologna. He wrote the Ruralia early in the fourteenth century, drawing on various Roman authors such as Cato, Columella, Varro and Palladius.  It is considered by some to have been the most important original medieval work on agriculture, husbandry and horticulture.  Frank J Anderson in his Illustrated history of the herbals suggests that : ’the contents of Crescenzi’s book provided anyone who worked on the land with a well-organized manual of procedure. Book 12, for example  is a calendar of duties and tasks to be performed month by month.  There are a number of woodcut illuminations in our 1471 Latin edition.

Pliny’s work, Naturalis Historia (Latin for Natural History) is an encyclopaedia  written about AD 77-79 by Pliny the Elder, the illuminations are striking.  It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire, and purports to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge. Like Crescentius, Pliny relied on the input of other famous scholars such as Varro, Agrippa, Herodotus, Thucydides and Theophrastus.  According to his nephew Pliny the Younger such was his enthusiasm to complete the encyclopaedia that; he remained in Pompeii when the volcano erupted to complete his work and he died.

The natural history

The celebrated printer and publisher of this book was Nicolaus Jenson who was born in Sommevoire, France (1420-1480).   He also designed and created the first model roman typeface as seen in our copy.  This was widely copied and was inspiration for other typefaces.  The style later came to be called “Venetian oldstyle”.

I have not exhausted the possibilities of the precious items and there is plenty of information the www. that will satisfy the most eager student ; however I believe that the best way to experience them is to see them and we would welcome you at the Special Collections.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Queen Frinklepop the third permalink
    October 11, 2011 8:48 am

    What a great advertisement for our library! I need to go down there myself before I leave as I always loved seeing Verity’s Treasures!

  2. February 9, 2013 7:04 pm

    Zune and iPod: Most people compare the Zune to the Touch, but after seeing how slim and surprisingly small and light it is, I consider it to be a rather unique hybrid that combines qualities of both the Touch and the Nano. It’s very colorful and lovely OLED screen is slightly smaller than the touch screen, but the player itself feels quite a bit smaller and lighter. It weighs about 2/3 as much, and is noticeably smaller in width and height, while being just a hair thicker

  3. David Grant permalink
    May 7, 2015 7:40 am

    Hi there, i am formatting a new book titled ‘The Lost Last Will and testament of Alexander the Great’, to be published in October 2015. I note the Pliny manuscript image above
    ( and comment and i would be keen to feature this image and reference to the Nicolaus Jenson in my chapter titled ‘The Precarious Path of Pergamon and Papyrus’. would I have your permission? and do you have a source accreditation? Many thanks indeed DAvid Grant

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