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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 12:45 GMT
Medieval book found in US farmhouse
Pages from the Nuremberg Chronicle
The book contains more than 1,800 illustrations
An American book dealer has uncovered a rare 500-year-old book from a farmhouse in Maine, New England.

The copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle is one of only 1,500 in existence. It is a precursor to the Gutenberg Bible which is considered the first Western book printed in type.

To this day, the illustrations march right off the page. There's an immediacy to them that has charmed people for more than five centuries

Rare Book School founder Terry Belanger

Published in 1493, it chronicles the history of the world as seen through the eyes of a medieval scholar, beginning with the biblical text of Genesis. It runs for 600 pages.

It was compiled by medieval physician Hartmann Schedel and produced by Anton Koberger, a Nuremberg publisher considered at the time to be one of the most important in Europe.

Lucky discovery

Barrie Pribyl, a rare book dealer based in Camden, Maine, uncovered the book after a client settling his parents' estate put some of their book collection up for sale.

Rare-book dealer Barrie Pribyl
Pribyl found the book amongst several the owner was selling from his parents' estate
The client, who has remained anonymous, said only that the book had probably been bought before he was born.

Ms Pribyl checked the book's authenticity through the internet.

"All you have to do is type in books published in 1493," she told the Associated Press news agency.

"There are not a whole lot of them."

At the time of purchase, the book is believed to have cost $1,500. Recent estimates have put the book's current value as high as $80,000, reports say.

Exquisite illustrations

Terry Belanger, founder of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, said that the Nuremberg Chronicle would have been popular largely among a wealthy, non-scholarly audience, especially because of its beautiful pictures.

Written in the Middle High German language, the book is illustrated with more than 1,800 exquisite pictures made from woodcuts in the traditional style of the era.

"To this day, the illustrations march right off the page," he said.

"There's an immediacy to them that has charmed people for more than five centuries."

Pictures of ancient maps, genealogies and other biblical and classical scenes are also depicted.

The owner has since decided to keep the book for himself, however he did allow it to be displayed in the town's public library, a decision that has proved popular with locals.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," one said.

See also:

06 Dec 01 | Arts
Rare Bond find in charity shop
02 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Rare book returned to library
08 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Police investigate Copernicus theft
24 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Following in Darwin's footsteps
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