History of the Book

Items in this collection explore how ideas have been recorded through the ages. These items trace the development of print and illustration technologies, while celebrating books as material expressions of cultural heritage.

Three votive clay cones inscribed with cuneiform script. Uruk, Utuhegal (reigned in Uruk before 2112 B.C.E.). These cones would have been placed in the walls or foundations of buildings built during Utuhegel's time or commissioned by him directly.

Cuneiform Tablets

The ancient Sumerians developed writing more than 5,000 years ago, and we have about 3,000 of these cuneiform tablets in our collection, dating from 3000 to 300 B.C.E.. "Cuneiform" refers to the wedge-shaped symbols which were pressed into clay with a stylus or writing instrument.

Digital Collection Catalog

Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BCE). Epistles. Venice: c. 1475-1499. Horace MS 2, f. 1r.


The Horace collection, a gift from Moncure Biddle, contains over 870 editions of works by the Roman poet. Ranging in date from the 15th to the 21st centuries, the collection includes manuscripts, incunabula, translations from all periods, emblematic adaptations, and 18th-century imitations. The texts provide a comprehensive survey of Horatian scholarship from the Renaissance to the present day, while the volumes themselves are notable as examples of fine printing and binding.

Additional items included in the collection:

  • llustrated edition printed at Strassburg in 1498
  • The famous Aldine edition of 1501
  • The masterpiece of engraving produced by John Pine in 1733–1737
  • The deluxe editions of Baskerville, Bodoni, and Didot
Digital Collection Catalog

Hours for Rome use. France, Paris, 22 August 1498, printed by Philippe Pigouchet for Simon Vostre (Goff H-394), f. 41r. This image depicts Lazarus begging for food from the rich man, and accompanies the text for Psalm 114, in the Vespers for the Office of the Dead.


Incunables, also Incunabula, are books printed between 1450 and 1500 using movable type. We have the largest collection in Philadelphia of early Western printing, with more than 800 incunables. This collection includes a wide representation of the 15th-century printing presses of continental Europe.

Digital Collection Catalog