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The Only “Mirror” Literature for Farmers (Cologne, c.1481)

The Only “Mirror” Literature for Farmers (Cologne, c.1481)

£15,000 €17,600  | $19,000


Rolewinck, Werner: [a2r:] Incipit libellus de regimine rusticorum, qui etiam valde utilis est curatis, capellanis, drossatis, schultetis ac alijs officiarijs eisdem in utroque statu presidentibus. [Cologne, Bartholomaeus de Unkel, not before 1481].


One volume, 20.4 cms. x 14.6 cms. in binding, quarto, 69 (of 70) fols., signed a-h8 i6, lacking blank a1. Sig. i6, blank, present. 27 lines per page. Type: 103. Capital spaces of two, three or four lines, the first with printed guide letter.

DecorationMost spaces with added red lombard initial (a few with lombard initial faded away). The first capital space, and others, were left blank. Printed initials slashed in yellow throughout.

Marginalia: 19 short manuscript early marginal glosses (faded), reader’s marks from same time.

Binding: Bound in green goatskin, covers filleted in gilt, spine with five raised bands, compartments with lozenges ruled with dots with flower stamp at centre of each and crescent to corners, second and third compartments with lettering in gilt “DE REG. RUSTIC. CIR: AN: 1470” (i.e. c.1470). Gilt filleting to sides and decorative rule to dentelles, marbled pastedown and endpapers, green silk ribbon, all edges gilt (binding slightly rubbed and worn but good).

ConditionLight or medium browning, foxing, spotting and staining - including inky finger prints possibly from time of printing (sig. e1 verso). Margins neatly ruled in pink-purple ink, perhaps at time of binding (c.1780-1820).


Early edition - usually described as the third - of this unusual and fascinating book of moral advice for farmers. It follows the model of the medieval “mirror” genre of writing for kings, princes, and others. It is however the only book properly of this type written for agricultural workers (Henn). The prolific author (1425-1502), famous as a chronicler, was a son of farmers of Westphalia and a Carthusian monk of Cologne, where our book was printed.

Rolewinck (Rolevinck) explains to the farmer straightforward rules for a good life. They must fear God; live in simplicity and good will; respect the agricultural profession; obey superiors; love the clergy; pay dues; observe church rites; give to the poor; keep peace with neighbours; govern their families well; watch against evil; keep people’s respect; keep away from drinkers, swearers and those who don’t fear God; confess sins; meditate on God’s laws; reflect on death and the brevity of life and pray to God for direction towards eternal joys. Importantly, they have high status: “the rustic dignity […] is instituted by God […] above other mechanical arts” (sig. b2 verso). They grow the materials for the Holy Communion: “[God] set it that they make his blessed body and precious blood” (b3 recto). In their fundamental and divinely-ordained role of feeding people, “the farmer is the principal cooperator of God, the angels and nature” (ibid.) Besides farmers, the book is advertised as useful for priests and secular officials. The German regions were to see major rural unrest (the Bundschuh movement (1493-1517), the German Peasants’ War (1524-1526)), which makes this book addressing rural workers’ lives and standing especially notable.

This is the only known edition by Bartholomaeus de Unkel, and one of 35 entries overall in ISTC with printing attributed to him. The dated books of this Cologne printer span from 1475 to 1484. His last possible output has been putatively dated 1486. His occasional known associates included the Cologne printers Johann Koelhoff the elder (d.1493) and Heinrich Quentell (d. 1501). 

Incunable editions of our book (first printed c.1472) are rare. Copies of any of five known pre-1501 editions are located only in six US libraries, according to ISTC. Our book is one of only three copies of this edition that we have found recorded in sales of the last twenty years. One - ex-Law Society of England and Wales - is now located in another institutional library and the other (see Bonhams, 10 June 2009, lot 22) may have a gathering supplied from a different copy.


ISTC ir00294000. BMC I 244. Bod-Inc R-100.

Arnold C. Klebs, “Incunabula scientifica et medica” (Osiris, 4 (1938)), 862.3 (p. 286).

Volker Henn, “Der Bauernspiegel des Werner Rolevinck”. Quelle: Westfälische Zeitschrift 128 (1978), 289-313.

Egidius Holzapfel, Werner, Rolevincks Bauernspiegel. Untersuchung und Neuherausgabe von “De regimine rusticorum” (Freiburg, 1959).


This book may also be seen on the website of Maggs Bros., with whom we share it.

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