The ULB has an extensive collection of old prints. The 16th century holdings comprise around 4,000 titles in around 3,200 volumes, as it was often the case that several titles were bound together to form anthologies. About 7,400 prints from the 17th century and 25,000 prints from the 18th century have been preserved.
Indexing, digitalisation and use
Almost all of the works from the 16th to the 19th century can be searched in the ULB catalogue. The directory of Düsseldorf prints (Verzeichnis Düsseldorfer Drucke) provides an overview of all titles printed in Düsseldorf between 1555 and 1806. The originals can be consulted in the Special Reading Room.
The ULB’s holdings of 16th century prints do not reflect either European or German literary production of the time. Rather, it has an entirely regional emphasis due to its previous ecclesiastical owners from the Lower Rhine region.
Places of printing
Of the 16th century prints, roughly two thirds were printed in German-speaking countries and around one third elsewhere. Beside Venice, Paris and Lyon, the Netherlands, which developed from the former Burgundian State during the 16th century, are also represented with countless (Latin) prints.
Subject areas in the holdings from the 16th century
Literature in the vernacular in the narrower sense (i.e. what is later referred to as fiction) is almost non-existent in the Düsseldorf collection (fewer than 30 titles, including fewer than ten in German).
The historical subjects (history, heraldry, genealogy) form the second largest group with almost 400 titles, 280 of which are from German-language places of printing. The most valuable prints in the group, which are rarer editions of significance to Lower Rhine regional history, are among the titles published in Germany.
Humanistic writings form the fifth largest thematic group within the 16th century prints with about 320 bibliographical items. With just 90 titles, the proportion of foreign places of printing is fairly low here.
Within the approximately 300 titles of legal literature, 230 titles were printed in German-speaking countries. Interestingly, despite the monastic previous owners, it is not canon law that dominates, but rather secular law (with sources and commentaries on Roman law), plus explanations and ordinances from the administration of the contemporary territorial states. The official prints of the three Lower Rhine duchies, the counties united with them and (to a lesser extent) the archdiocese of Cologne are particularly valuable.
A large number of prints containing texts by classical authors are also preserved in ULB’s collection. There are 176 titles by Greek authors (mostly in Latin translation), of which 123 were printed in the German-speaking region. A total of 217 titles are by Latin authors, whereby 127 were printed in the German-speaking region. The titles by Greek and Latin authors acquired by Rhenish humanists are of particular value within ULB’s collection.
ULB owns around 230 medical works dating from the 16th century, of which well over half were printed in the German-speaking region.
In terms of content, the theological subjects in the broadest sense represent the largest share in absolute terms. Some 2,100 works, of which just under 1,400 were printed in the German-speaking region, cover the following areas: bible editions and commentaries, patristics, scholastic theology, devotional literature (with a high proportion of works from the Devotio Moderna movement for religious reform), saints’ vitae, history of religious orders. The emphasis on theological works can be explained by the origins of ULB’s collection of 16th century prints: ninety-five percent are from secularised monastery libraries. The Protestant controversy literature in the collection also comes from these monastery libraries and was apparently acquired to provide counterarguments in confessional disputes.