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Early Printed Books

A guide to help you locate and use books printed in the major languages of Western Europe between 1450 and 1700

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Germany, Austria & Switzerland

Page from the Chronicles of Saxony with a woodcut of Magdeburg Castle

This page focuses on the German language, and covers some major collections in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Searching for Texts

The Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog is not a collective catalog like those of other countries. It is a meta search engine that sends your search query to the catalogs of other libraries. Keep in mind that rare books collections may not be integrated into the online catalogs . Similarly, WorldCat may or may not list all of the older materials held in various libraries, but it may provide a helpful first indication of where your materials can be found.

If you're not sure what you're looking for, perusing printed bibliographies is a good place to start. More information on searching for texts can be found on the home page of this guide.


Searching online catalogs is the fastest way to find what you're looking for if you already know what it is. If you want to explore, browsing bibliographies may be the way to go. Many paper bibliographies are available under Z call numbers, and in facsimile editions via Google Books and Hathi Trust. More information on bibliographies can be found on the home page of this guide.

Several catalogs of German printed books divided by century are available. Below you will find catalogs of books printed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as some more specific catalogs by genre, and some early bibliographies.

National Libraries

The Austrian National Library traces its origins to the Middle Ages, and its collections of early printed books are huge. Due to its fragmented history, Germany has a number of regional libraries of varying age, some of which are listed in the next section. The German and Swiss National Libraries were formed more recently, and tend to have more recent collections.

When requesting access to old and rare materials, most institutions will require that you apply for some sort of researcher's card and may require to see some evidence of why you need to use the materials. It is a good idea to anticipate this, and familiarize yourself with the requirements at the libraries you intend to visit before you travel. It is also advisable to bring an original letter from your department chair or dissertation advisor attesting to your research needs. 

More information on visiting libraries and archives can be found on the home page of this guide.

Facade of the Austrian National Library in Vienna

The Austrian National Library in Vienna

Other Collections

A number of Germany's state, academic, and regional libraries hold enormous collections of incunabula and books printed between 1500 and 1700. The Bavarian State Library is home to the largest collection of incunabula in the world. These are only a few of the most important collections, but there are many more.

For libraries in North America with collections of early printed books, please see the Collections in North America page of this guide.

Facade of the Bavarian State Library in Munich

The Bavarian State Library in Munich

Early Modern German Orthography

German, like other European languages, employed many spelling variants in the early years of printing. Some scholars attribute this to a lack of systemization, while others believe that this diversity of spellings was an aesthetic goal of the printers of the era. Be sure to check for possible spelling variations when you are searching for texts. More information on orthography can be found on the home page of this guide, and in the texts below.

Learn more about German orthography