A Mysterious Incunable on the American Antiques Roadshow / by Kat Howard

Antiques Roadshow Incunable Typically chock full of folk art, Tiffany pieces, and Jeffersonian chairs, I was really surprised when a text from 1492 appeared on the American version of the Antiques Roadshow. The book is the second volume of the works of St. Ambrose, one of the original 'doctors of the Church' from the 4th century, who largely defined what role monarchs should play in early Catholicism (according to him, they should stay out of it). Ancient texts often pop up on the British Antiques Roadshow, where Roman rings and medieval earthenware are commonly brought on the show, so it was refreshing to see an intriguing early manuscript on the American version. Books like this are known as incunables, taken from the latin word for 'swaddling clothes', because printing was still in its infancy when it was created. In fact, it was only about four decades prior that Johanne Gutenberg invented the printing press.

St. Ambrose's teachings became popular again around the time of King Henry VIII, during the reformation, when Henry sought to sever the Church of England from the Vatican in order to further his own goals (namely divorcing, and beheading multiple wives until he was able to procure a male heir). The King himself owned several copies of this early religious text, which he studied meticulously as he created a new and opposing church doctrine.

Was Henry VIII here?

Coincidentally, adding to this manuscript's intrigue is the inscription that reads Henry VIII, King of England, France and Ireland inside its cover. Was this text one of the infamous copies that belonged to Henry VIII? Books expert Stephen Massey said the only definitive way to tell if the book was indeed inscribed then, would be to consult a paleographer, an authority on older forms of handwriting.

The Antiques Roadshow further chronicles the mystery surrounding this rare find.