Material Evidence
in Incunabula

Material Evidence in Incunabula

MEI is a database specifically designed to record and search the material evidence (or copy specific, post-production evidence and provenance information) of 15th-century printed books: ownership, decoration, binding, manuscript annotations, stamps, prices, etc. MEI is linked to the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC), provided by the British Library, from which it derives the bibliographical records, and it allows the user at last to combine searches of bibliographical records (extracted from ISTC) with copy specific records.

Uniquely, every element recorded (a certain style of decoration or binding, a manuscript note, prices, etc.) is treated as a valuable clue for provenance, therefore it can be geographically located and chronologically dated.

Personal and institutional names of ownership are collected in the satellite database Owners of Incunabula, where further bio-bibliographical information can be found. This provides links to all the copies owned by the same person or institution, allowing for the reconstruction of dispersed collections. Provenance locations are also linked to another satellite database, Geographic Regions, which offers geocoordinates ( and map locations. Finally, the database Holding Institutions contains the names of the libraries listed in MEI and ISTC. In MEI we are also capturing evidence of specific copies known to have existed at a certain time in a certain place, from documentary evidence, and now lost. You can read more on

MEI has been developed to provide a physical representation of the circulation of books throughout the centuries, from place of production, to their present locations: this is now available in our visualisation tool, 15cV.

PLEASE NOTE: a number of large collections of incunabula with already some copy specific information in their online catalogues have been uploaded: Oxford Bodleian Library, The Hague KB, Cambridge UL, and Wien NL. These records are in the process of being adjusted to MEI standards with reference to separate blocks of provenance each with their temporal and geographical markers.