Before the invention of the printing press, books were produced by hand. You can find examples of such manuscripts from the 13th and 14th centuries in the collection of Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books.

[Bible], [between 1200 and 1299]

One of the oldest manuscript books in Open Collections is a Latin Bible from the 13th century. It was written and decorated in England, probably Oxford, by several hands. It includes Old and New Testaments (in 2 columns, 50 lines), Interpretationes Hebraicorum nominum (in 3 columns, 50 lines), and an early owner’s near-contemporary concordance of the Gospels at the end of the volume, listing subjects and chapter numbers in a series of long tables. It also contains numerous 13th to 16th century additions (in margins) in pen or drypoint.

Old and New Testaments

Interpretationes Hebraicorum nominum

Concordance of the Gospels

If you’re interested in learning more about this Bible, please check out this blog post.

[Book of hours], [between 1430 and 1440?]

The book of hours is a book of Christian prayers and devotions popular in the Middle Ages. It is the most common type of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript, decorated with plenty of miniatures, initials, and line-fillers. This manuscript was written and illuminated in Rouen, France, approximately 1430-1440. The leaf numbers made in pencil in the upper-right corner were from a previous owner.

Li dai jun jian  歷代君鑒, [1453]

China has been using woodblock technique for book printing since the 9th century (source: Wikipedia). In Open Collections, the oldest printed Chinese book is Li dai jun jian  歷代君鑒, a book about emperors in Chinese history.

The book was compiled by order of the Jingtai Emperor, the seventh Emperor of the Ming dynasty, China, who reigned from 1449 to 1457. When his elder brother Zhengtong Emperor was captured by Mongols in 1449, he was selected to succeed the throne. Jingtai Emperor asked his officials to compile a book of past emperors, both good and poor, so that he could draw lessons from the history. The book was issued in 1453. But unfortunately for him, only four years later, his elder brother managed to regain power. Jingtai died a month later at the age of 30. (Source: Wikipedia).

Handan 邯鄲, 1621

The oldest Chinese printed book with illustrations is Handan 邯鄲, a play written by Tang Xianzu. In the 17th century, watching plays was such popular entertainment that books of plays were in high demand. This book is a double-colour woodblock print. It has eight illustrations at the beginning, and a lot of comments printed in red and black in the margins.

We hope you enjoyed this blog post! To explore more rare books in Open Collections, please check out Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books and Chinese Rare Books. You may also be interested in this research guide from UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections: UBC Vancouver Course Guides:  History of the Book.

In our digital project workflow, we first evaluate copyright concerns for the submitted project proposal. Even if the collection contains historically important items to be digitized and preserved, we cannot approve the project if there are copyright restrictions or issues. This post will briefly summarize what you need to know about copyright and digitization. For more detailed information about copyright, please visit Copyright at UBC (Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office).

What is Copyright? Why do we have to care about it in digitization projects?

According to Copyright at UBC, “Copyright is the sole and exclusive right of a copyright owner to produce, reproduce, perform, publish, adapt, translate and telecommunicate a work, and to control the circumstances in which others may do any of these things. Copyright owners grant permission to others through what are legally referred to as licenses.” In the digitization context, we need to ensure the item is in the public domain or we obtain permission in order (1) to make digital copies of the items and (2) to disseminate them[i]. Making digital copies can be considered as “reproducing” the original items, and disseminating as “publishing”.

Our Digital Collection Development Policy of the UBC Library defines the collection review criteria and questions for rights issues as follows:

  1. Does the Library hold copyright for the material to be digitized?
  2. Does the Library have written documentation from the rights owner allowing it to hold a digital copy of the material?
  3. Does the Library require any other permission prior to embarking on the project?


As we state in our Project Planning Toolkit, the answers to any of the following questions should be “yes” when digitizing an item and publishing it in Open Collections:

  • Is the material in the public domain?
  • Does UBC hold the copyright to the material?
  • Will the copyright holder give permission to digitize the material?


The following collections are examples of how we have dealt with copyright:

Public Domain: Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books

The original items in the Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books were published between 1245 and 1680. All of the items are out of copyright, and UBC owns the materials in their entirety. Therefore, it could be digitized without worrying about copyright infringement.

[Catholicon], 1460.

Americae sive novi orbis, nova description, 1572.


Permission from Copyright holder: BC Sessional Papers[ii]

The items in the BC Sessional Papers collection are protected under parliamentary privilege, which applies to the materials printed by the Legislative Library of British Columbia (LLBC). Parliamentary privilege extended to printed parliamentary publications does not expire. In other words, intellectual property rights are held in perpetuity by Parliament.

In order to make the digital copies of the Sessional Papers and upload to Open Collections, we consulted with the Legislative Assembly Law Clerk and other copyright experts. Both parties signed a non-exclusive digitization and distribution agreement (Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and the University of British Columbia Library Digital Initiatives). By this agreement, the UBC Library has right to preserve and disseminate the Sessional Paper, and add the digitized materials to the UBC Library collections.


British Columbia. Legislative Assembly, [1929]. REPORT OF LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD, 1927-28.


If interested in completing a project with us, please consider copyright issues prior to submitting a proposal.


[i] Gertz, J. (2007) 6.6 Preservation and selection for digitization. Northeast Document Center. Available at Cited in Balogun, T. (2018). The nexus between digitization, preservation and access in the context of selection of materials for archives. Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal), 1893. Retrieved from


[ii] Carr-Harris, M., Curry, G., Graebner, C., Paterson, S., & Rollins, C. (2011). British Columbia Government Publications Digitization Project: Proof of Concept. Retrieved from

The Digitization Centre has digitized several collections of maps, as well as several collections that contain maps among other materials. This post provides a summary of those collections, showcasing some of our favourite maps from Open Collections!

Greater Vancouver Regional District Planning Department Land Use Maps

This collection contains more than 1,800 maps of the greater Vancouver area from 1965, 1980, and 1983. There are two index maps that help to navigate the collection:

Index – Land Use Series: The numbers on this map correspond to the “Identifier” field for each map. For example, you can search within the collection for Identifier:(V92) to find maps showing the north side of UBC campus.

Greater Vancouver Regional District Planning Department. Index – Land Use Series.


Greater Vancouver Regional District Planning Department. Land Use : U.E.L., 1979.


Index Map: Subdivision and Land Use Maps: This index map includes the Lower Mainland outside of Vancouver. Similarly, you can search by “Identifier” to locate the maps referenced by this index.

For more information on this collection, check out our previous blog post about it!

Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era

This collection contains Japanese maps from the Edo period, or Tokugawa period (1603-1868). The majority of the maps are rare or even unique.

Many of the maps show all or part of Japan:

Okamoto, Chikusō, active 19th century. Shinkoku Dai Nihon zenzu [Newly engraved map of Great Japan], 1865.

Utagawa, Sadahide, 1807-1873. Dai Nihon Fujisan zetchō no zu [Panoramic view of the summit of Mt. Fuji], 1857.

There are also some Japanese world maps included in the collection:

Bankoku enzu [Round map of all nations], 1675.

For a more detailed overview of this collection, see our previous blog post: Explore Open Collections: Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era.

Andrew McCormick Maps and Prints

This collection contains world maps dating from 1503 to 1910, with a focus on European maps and maritime exploration. Here is a selection of maps from the collection:

Moll, Herman, -1732. A map of the North Pole with all the territories that lye near it, known to us &c. according to the latest discoveries, and most exact observations, Agreeable to modern history, [1732].

Pond, Peter, 1740-1807. A map shewing the communication of the lakes and the rivers between Lake Superior and Slave Lake in North America, 1790.


You can read more about the collection and view other highlights in this previous blog post: Explore Open Collections: Andrew McCormick Maps and Prints.

Maps in other collections

In addition to the above three collections, there are many digital collections that contain maps along with other items.

The Chung Collection contains several maps of Canada released by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. This “sportsman’s map” of Canada shows the terrain and wildlife for different regions:

Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Sportsman’s map of the Dominion of Canada, 1898.


This map from 1943 shows the air routes serviced by Canadian Pacific Air Lines at the time:

Canadian Pacific Air Lines. Map of Canada showing air routes, 1943.


In the UBC Library Digitization Centre Special Projects collection, there are over 60 maps that do not belong to other collections, including this map of southeastern Vancouver Island from 1860:

D’Heureuse, Rudolph. Map of the south-eastern districts of Vancouver Island, 1860.


The BC Historical Books collection is an excellent source of early British Columbia maps, like this map of the Lower Mainland:

Hill, Albert James, 1836-1918. Map of the municipalities of New Westminster city and district, British Columbia, 1889.


Finally, the Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books collection contains several 16th century maps, like this beautiful map of the Americas from 1588:

Ortelius, Abraham, 1527-1598. Americae sive novi orbis, nova descriptio, [1588].

You can find more maps by searching for the keyword “map” in a given collection, or by perusing the Maps genre in Open Collections.


A herbal is part of a genre of books that features lists of plants with accompanying descriptions of their properties. John Gerard’s The herball, or, Generall historie of plants (1597) is a quintessential 16th century example. The text drew from earlier herbals: it was commissioned as an English translation of a Dutch herbal, Rembert Dodoens’ Stirpium historiae pemptades sex (1583). In fact, there is some controversy surrounding the work’s origin: Gerard was accused of plagiarism for borrowing portions of an unfinished translation without citation. Even so, it is one of the most famous English herbals.

UBC Library’s copy of The herball, or, Generall historie of plantes (1597) was digitized as part of the Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books collection. Most plants discussed in the text feature accompanying illustrations – here are some of our favorites.

These full-page spreads of daffodils and marigolds include beautiful detail of the bulbs and roots:

John Gerard made some additions to The herball that were not in the original. Because of his contributions, The herball featured the first illustrations of a potato plant to appear in any herbal:

But, you don’t want to eat these “stinking and deadly carrots”:

Have you ever seen a saffron plant? The book features several different varieties:

Beer enthusiasts may be interested in this description and illustrations of hops:

Finally, here is the book’s illustration of an almond tree:


Old manuscripts can be full of surprises. Going through our collection of Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books Collection can almost feel like a treasure hunt! You can find amazing and delicate details in the drawings, the margins, and even the letters of the page. But do you know why manuscripts were created so intricately?

The decorative elements found in borders, drawings, and initials on manuscripts had a purpose. These details increased the value of the material while enhancing the appearance of the manuscript. They helped readers to interpret the text by offering visual content, which aided literacy, and by delineating passages of text. Decorations could also be used to demonstrate the importance of the manuscript owner or of the represented person.

Book of hours, 1440


Books of hours, 1440


Illuminated manuscripts often used bright colors from natural pigments, gold leaf and even semi-precious stones for decoration. Illuminators were very skilled and specialized workers, and it was common for a single work to take multiple years to complete. Illuminated manuscripts were of high prestige and were often given as diplomatic gifts or to celebrate dynastic marriages. Although the increasing popularity of the printing press in the 16th century meant that books no longer had to be hand-written, many aristocrats and rulers continued to order these manuscripts for private devotion and viewing.

In addition to illuminations, manuscripts could also incorporate decoration in other ways. Common decorative embellishments were:

  • Initials: decorations varied from a simple rubrication (inking the initial letter in red) to drawings inside the initial letter, which were color painted and represented a scene from the text.
  • Borders: these varied from a simple pen-work with red or blue ink to borders using gold leaf and pigments. Expensive books sometimes had borders on every page, while others would have borders only on the first page, or to introduce new parts of the text.
  • Miniatures: these were smaller works of art that could fulfill a range of purposes, such as providing commentary, deepening the reader’s understanding of the text, or by providing aesthetic and meditative value.


Spanish chant manuscript, 1625


[Quaestiones super tres libros De anima Aristotelis], 1480

[Quaestiones super tres libros De anima Aristotelis], 1480

Explore our Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books Collection to check out these and other items!



An introduction to illuminated manuscripts (British Library)

Illuminated manuscripts (National Gallery of Art)

Manuscripts and special collections (University of Nottingham)

Manuscript illumination in Northern Europe (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

We here at the Digitization Centre were wondering: “What can I learn from the Early printed books and Western manuscripts”? We found the answer: “A lot of things.” This time, we chose to discuss what we found out about the history of typography.

The earliest printed books were produced to be similar to handwritten manuscripts by imitating scribal handwriting. It was common to send books to be finished by the hands of illuminators (who created initial letters and illustrations) and rubricators (who added text in red to highlight important information).

In general, people from the medieval era couldn’t distinguish manuscripts from early printed books because the books were produced in a way to imitate scribal handwriting. Even now, it can be difficult to distinguish the two forms. An example of this can be found in the Book of Hours, which is probably a manuscript rather than a book, but features the work of illuminators and rubricators.

[Book of hours], 1440

When printing the Bible, Gutenberg used the Textura quadrata script, commonly used for books in churches. To make it similar to scribal handwriting, he created and used about 300 types, which included ligatures and abbreviated letters.

Examples of other scripts that were used in manuscripts and early books in medieval Europe include:

  • Textura quadrata: a type of gothic script, where the black of the letters overcomes the white of the page. Used for books in churches.
  • Rotunda: another type of gothic script, used in books. It was created in Bologna, in the 12th
  • Bastarda: a third type of gothic script, used in documents and for formal information, such as the French and Burgundian book of hours from the 15th
  • Carolingian minuscule: created in the 8th century during the governing of Charlemagne. It is the basis for the Roman type that we use today.


Examples of gothic scripts

Can you differentiate from Textura quadrata, Rotunda and Bastarda? These materials can help you if you want to try: Fonts for Latin paleography and Dawn of Western printing.

Roemische Historien, 1574


Der Römischen Kaiserlichen Maiestat Edict wider D. Martin Luther seine Anhenger Enthalter und Nachuolger…, 1546


[Catholicon], 1460


Carolingian minuscule

This script deserves its own section. The person responsible for the creation of this type of letter is not clear. Some say that Alcuin of York was the primary creator, while others say that the style actually was developed over time. But Alcuin of York’s contributions go beyond the creation of the Carolingian minuscule. He instructed scribes to use easy-to-read letters, insert spaces between words, a capital letter at the beginning of sentences, and to use punctuation on texts.

The Carolingian minuscule had clear forms and did not make use of ligatures and abbreviations, which made the information legible. The script was used for legal documents and literary works, which in turn contributed to increased communication and information comprehension.

The Carolingian minuscule, as mentioned before, gave origin to the Roman type that we still use today.

M. Fabii Quintiliani rhetoris clarrissimi Oratoriarum institutionum libri XII : opera ac studio Ioachimi…, 1543


Orlando furioso, 1577


Check out our Western Manuscripts and early Printed Books to see the different scripts used and appreciate the beauty of these works.



8th century: the Roman letterform is revived by the Carolingians (Design history)

A guide for the perplexed (Mark Bland)

Blackletter: the gothic hands 12-15th C. (Design history)

Early printed books (First impressions)

Features of early printed books (First impressions)

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