The Bryn Mawr College Library holds one of the country’s largest collections of incunabula, books printed between the invention of printing in the early 1450s to the end of 1500. The collection consists of more than 1225 titles, of which roughly 95% came from the libraries of Howard Lehman Goodhart (1884 -1951) and his daughter, Phyllis Goodhart Gordan (1913-1994), a 1935 graduate of Bryn Mawr and a prominent historian of the Renaissance.
The subsequent sections of this guide discuss some of the strengths of the collection. To see a full list of 15th century printed books in the collections, search the library’s online catalogue, Tripod, for “Incunabula- Specimens.”
This research guide was prepared by Daniel J. Crosby, Graduate Student in Classics, and Eric Pumroy, Director of Special Collections, Summer 2016.
St. Jerome. Detail from the first page of St. Jerome's Epistolae. Mainz: Peter Schoeffer, 1470. Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.
Howard Lehman Goodhart (1884-1951), the source of most of Bryn Mawr's collection, began collecting incunabula in 1934 to support his daughter’s academic work on Renaissance Humanism. Even when his collecting interests broadened in the following years, there remained an important focus on the works of classical antiquity and Renaissance writers, notably Poggio Bracciolini, Mrs. Gordan’s special area of interest. He gave more than 900 incunabula to Bryn Mawr either shortly before his death or as a bequest. The two major publications on the Goodhart & Bryn Mawr collections are the 1955 Fifteenth Century Books in the LIbrary of Howard Lehman Goodhart, which includes an essay by Mrs. Gordan, and her 1973 lecture on the collection, Of What Use Are Old Books. Both are available online.
The remaining 15th century books came from a variety of donors, beginning in 1886 with the gift of a volume of Aldus Manutius’s Greek edition of Aristotle by Wayne MacVeagh, who served as Attorney General of the United States in 1881. Other important donors included Samuel Pennypacker, Governor of Pennsylvania from 1903 to 1907, and Ethelinda Schaefer Castle, class of 1908, whose large bequest of books to Bryn Mawr in 1970 included 14 incunabula.