Marks of use in the Chronicle

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, VII 1493).
The Library of Christ's College, Cambridge: Inc.1.5, f. 163r


The Nuremberg Chronicles Marks of use in the Chronicle

By kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Christ's College, Cambridge.

All Our Chronicles

Like other early modern books, copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle demonstrate multiple different signs of readership, including marginal notes, ownership inscriptions, bookplates, and pen trials. However, there are other marks of use too, including stains, dirt, fingerprints, drops of ink, and smudges of soot on the pages. Although we almost never can attribute these marks to a particular reader or even to a time period, they may shed light on both the textual preferences of readers and their reading practices.

“It is one of the dirtiest copies of the Chronicle we have come across so far.”

The copy held by the Library of Christ’s College, Cambridge, provides a fascinating example of a sacred history that was handled by multiple English readers with various interests and reading attitudes. It is one of the dirtiest copies of the Chronicle that we have come across so far. Interestingly, the degree of dirtiness of the pages varies significantly throughout the Chronicle, and if we suppose that the most  blotted pages were the most popular it appears that some readers were fascinated by the history of early Christian Church.  On this page at least two different readers made annotations on the Synod of Rome of 731 which condemned iconoclasm.   The marks, stains and dirt on this copy suggest that it may have been left lying around in the household:  black marks along one edge suggest that at one time it was too close to a fire!

This copy had several different readers in England and Italy who left notes on various subjects throughout the book. An English reader used the blank spaces and margins to record remedies for ‘rheum’, ‘pimples’, and ‘ringworms’.  The copy also presents an example of a scholarly and institutional ownership. It was acquired in the late 16th century by a lawyer Ferdinando Pulton (1536–1618), who at the end of his life bestowed it to Christ’s College, his alma mater. He left an exceptionally pompous note about his donation, written by a scribe and signed by himself. Finally, the copy (and the page on display) demonstrates the habits of the 19th-20th century private and institutional collectors, who used to crop the edges of books to make them fit bookshelves or bindings, thus pitilessly cutting away a good part of marginalia.


Many of these Nuremberg Chronicles  reveal how readers kept and used their copies as well as how they read the text.   They personalised their volumes, equipped them with indexes, and tried out their pens in the margins. Some of the  traces on the pages – dirt and stains – reflect the life of the Chronicle as a material object in the early modern household.