Man discovers priceless book in his attic. Why is it called a “chronicle?”

Imagine this: your beloved great uncle bequeaths to you an old book; so old that it is literally coming apart at the seams. You tuck away the tattered tome in the attic, where it will stay for decades. One day you decide to unearth the inherited manuscript and have it appraised. To your astonishment, your great uncle left you a highly coveted artifact that dates back to the 15th century. This biblio-fairy tale turned into a true story for one Sandy, Utah resident.

The discovery of the partial copy of the 500-year-old Nuremberg Chronicle left antique book dealer, Ken Sanders, flabbergasted. “You don’t expect to see one of the oldest printed books pop up in Sandy, Utah” Sanders said. It’s a long journey indeed; one that begins in Nuremberg, Germany.

Originally published in Latin in July of 1493 and referred to by Latin scholars as the Liber Chronicarum (Book of Chronicles), the text was translated into German five months later and called the Nuremberg Chronicle – a reference to the city in which it was published.  To honor its author, Hartmann Schedel, German speakers refer to the text as Die Schedelshe Weltchronic or Schedel’s World History. The pages describe a version of human history segmented into seven chapters or “ages,” beginning with the Biblical Creation and ending at the Last Judgment.

The only chronicles one hears about these days generally relate to the fictional Narnia, but these texts constitute one of the earliest and most important genres in the history of written language. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is one of the first known English language texts. Part almanac, part history, chronicles are typically comprehensive and idiosyncratic. In contrast to a history, which prioritizes events according to an author’s point of view, the chronicle theoretically catalogues all events in particular time period.

The Nuremberg Chronicle is considered one of the most perfectly executed examples of early printing. The book is one of the first to successfully combine text with woodcut illustrations, 1,089 in all, bathed in watercolor.

So what’s the going rate for a find such as this? According to San Francisco-based antiquities book dealer, John Windle, a mint condition copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle could fetch up to $1 million at auction. “Because of this book’s tattered state,” Windle said, “It’s likely worth less than $50,000.” Nonetheless, for an avuncular gift, not too shabby.