Birds, butterflies and two-headed dragons

by Olivia Lardner, Bolton Cataloguer

A stunning example of early 16th century printing for you this week in the form of Bolton Library I.17.21.




The sermons of Johann Herolt (-1468)

Sermones discipuli de tempore de sanctis (London : Julian Notary, 1510) is a collection of church year sermons by Johann Herolt (-1468), a German Dominican active in Nuremberg and preaching half a century before the Reformation.1 His sermons are a valuable insight into what affected and worried the people of this continent in the 15th century. It was quite a lot apparently, as this is an imposing volume indeed, coming in at close to 400 leaves!


Title page of Sermones discipuli de tempore de sanctis, printed in London in 1510 by Julian Notary
Sermones discipuli de tempore de sanctis (London : Julian Notary, 1510)


Herolt’s sermons proved very popular in the 15th century and were widely reprinted,2 and here we find Julian Notary (active 1496–1520) of London, in printing the work some 40 years after the death of its author, adding some diverting beauty to the tome.

The volume’s beautiful title page is printed in red and black and includes a large vignette of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. An inhabited3 letter S initial kicks off the proceedings:



Inside, the text is printed in double columns of black letter, and is peppered with more visuals, such as this image of the last supper:


Image of The last supper
The last supper


Inhabited colophon

The most beautiful part of the volume however, in the humble opinion of this cataloguer, must be the item’s full-page colophon,4 which shows the printer’s initials and full name in a compartment of birds, flowers and trees, accompanied by a butterfly and two dragons, one of which sports two heads.


The colophon of Sermones by Johannes Herolt
The item’s delightfully busy colophon


One would be forgiven for thinking that the effacement which can be seen at the tail of the colophon might be an attempt to destroy something. McKerrow’s reproduction of the image5 shows that what lies beneath is simply the base of some flowers and the second set of Notary’s initials present on the page. The effacement is more likely then a spot of early colouring in, or perhaps some ill-judged pen testing.


A modern binding

Unusually for a Bolton Library item, a collection in which a large proportion of contemporary and perhaps original bookbindings survive, the binding covering this volume is in fact a relatively modern one, from the 19th century. It is more than likely calfskin, but as all leather is rubbed it is quite difficult to tell now.



Inside the rear cover is 19th century printed waste, a fragment from The imperial review (London : Luke Hansard, 1804):


Printed waste from a copy of Imperial review (1804)
p 520 from: Imperial review (London : Luke Hansard, 1804)


The Bolton Library copy of Sermones is one of just eight known to survive today.6


Further Reading

View further examples of diverting printing in Leopards and lions abound in Paris

Siggins, I.D.K. (2009). A harvest of medieval preaching : the sermon books of Johann Herolt, OP (Discipulus). Xlibris Corporation, available here.



  1. CERL Thesaurus, CERL.[]
  2. Siggins, I.D.K. (2009). A harvest of medieval preaching : the sermon books of Johann Herolt, OP (Discipulus). Available here.[]
  3. Containing human or animal figures.[]
  4. Information detailing the production/ printing of an item, usually appearing at the very end of an item.[]
  5. McKerrow, R.B. (1913). Printers’ & publishers’ devices in England and Scotland 1485-1640. London: Bibliographical Society at the Chiswick Press, p. 10 and facs. 26.[]
  6. ESTC, British Library.[]