Bibliophiles and manuscript historians of all persuasions may be interested in a new database recording, identifying and making available in free, searchable, electronic form watermarks in Spanish and English incunabula.


This work has been incorporated into the Bernstein, Memory of Paper watermark database, which can be found at Links between the Bernstein watermark database and the Incunabula Short-Title Catalogue are being built.

The whole Bernstein database, which requires some getting used to, provides a means for determining the history of individual pieces of paper. It contains approximately 160,000 data records about various characteristics of paper produced in Europe primarily during the Middle Ages and the early modern period, and that was used for books, archival documents, or prints. The data focuses on the watermarks this paper contains, the imprints that are still visible of the paper moulds, and descriptions of the paper itself. Digital images of the structures in this paper, like watermarks, are also included in the data. Searches can be conducted in the catalogue by keywords and/or paper characteristics. Desired watermarks can be found by specifying their motif. For those that require it, statistical functions also allow quantitative data studies.

The site also contains a remarkable bibliography, containing more than 31,000 bibliographic records of publications on the historical, technological, social, commercial, and other aspects of paper that have been published to date. This in itself is an extremely useful reference source.

The element relating to watermarks in incunabula printed in Great Britain (to which searches can be restricted) was compiled by Paul Needham and edited for the database by Gerard van Thienen.

This part of the project has been sponsored by the Bibliographical Society.

In the image above you can see a watermark of a Madonna and child within a crowned shield, from a copy of Sir Thomas Littleton’s, Tenores novelli, published in London by William de Machinlia in 1484 (British Library).

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