Queen’s acquires rare book printed in 1482

Kingston, ON, Canada / CKWS TV

In the world of rare books, this is the equivalent of a Mona Lisa.

It’s a copy of Caxton’s Polycronicon – and it was printed in 1482, making it one of the oldest known books printed in the english language.

Jillian sparks: “This isn’t somebody off the street who was able to buy this book and read it. You still have a very learned, scholarly class who were able to access these books.”

The Polycronicon is a history book, detailing events up to the 1380’s.

Alvan Bregman: “Through biblical history and classical history. And then it begins an in depth exposition of English history with sources available in the 1400’s.”

Alvan bregman is the head of queen’s university’s rare books and special collections.

He made a trip to boston last year – to check out the condition of this polycronicon to make sure it was worth the price tag.

Queen’s was able to afford it thanks in large part to a 2 million dollar donation from Seymour shulich.

And how much did it cost? Well it’s a subject that gentlemen, and apparently rare book experts – never discuss.

Alvan bregman: “(Nervous laughter) we really would prefer not to talk about prices.”

As for what’s written inside the book – it’s not like anything you’d see printed today.

The english language has changed — a lot — over the past 535 years.

Jillian sparks: “This is very much still going to look like a manuscript. Rather difficult to read and it has a stylized font. Which can be called ‘bastardo’ or ‘black letter’.”

This version along with two other *slightly* newer ones are now on display inside the school’s Douglas Library.


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