Incunabula in the Lopez Museum | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Incunabula in the Lopez Museum

Most of the commentaries on these pages this week will undoubtedly be on the President’s State of the Nation Address. Viewpoints differ, and one can see the glass as either half-empty or half-full, depending on whether one likes this administration or not. To provide our readers with something different, I decided to focus on 17th-century Filipino printers.

When I require my students to visit the university library, many ask why the material I want them to consult isn’t online. Others, keeping their impatience in check, confront me for requiring them to handle a physical book when their fingers are better suited for tablets, cell phones and laptops. People have been predicting the end of the printed book, but the same thing was said about radio when TV came along. Pessimists also predicted that movies would become obsolete when the betamax player was invented. We have since seen laser discs, DVDs, and high-definition machines, yet films are still being made.

This antiquated history professor often has to explain to 21st-century students that in another time, tablets were not electronic gadgets but pieces of stone whose smooth surface preserved words written, incised, or carved. I explain to them that the way they use their tablets has a long history that goes back to scrolls (which has given us the verb “to scroll,” or “scrolling”). I add that when they flip, swipe, or slide pages on their tablets, they are still using the same movements one would with old-fashioned physical books. I give my students a sense of how I do my work, explaining how I mine information from manuscripts in archives or artifacts in museums. I feel that many students have to be reintroduced to the tactile pleasures of handling a physical book: admiring its cover; admiring the size and typeface of the text; admiring the look, feel and smell of paper, sometimes even the smell of ink on the pages of a freshly bought book.


Those who are interested enough to explore the printed word outside the university library are often referred to: the Lopez Memorial Museum, the Ortigas Library, and the Filipinas Heritage Library (recently relocated from Nielsen Tower to the top floor of the Ayala Museum). These three institutions have collections of “rare” books that, by definition, means anything printed in the Philippines before 1950. These three libraries, and of course the National Library of the Philippines, have books that go way back to the Spanish period, but it is only the Lopez Museum that published a beautiful printed catalogue of its prized items titled “Philippine Rariora: A descriptive catalog of 17th-century imprints in the Lopez Memorial Museum” by the late Mauro Garcia (Eugenio Lopez Foundation, 1983).


The collection of the industrialist Eugenio Lopez Sr. forms the core of the Lopez Museum. He started acquiring Filipiniana in the 1960s from dealers in the United States and Spain, and was continually in search of another copy of the 1593 “Doctrina Cristiana,” the Tagalog and Chinese versions of which are acknowledged as the first books printed in the Philippines. His dealers surely updated him on incunabula, or books printed during the first 50 years of printing in the Philippines (1593-1643) and postincunabula, or books printed in 1643-1700.

While these “Doctrinas” eluded Lopez and his agents, the dragnet still caught a religious tome in Ilocano printed in Manila in 1620. Nobody needs the text or content of “Libro a Naisuratan” today, yet as an artifact this imprint is important because its cover lists the names of Antonio Madamba and Miguel Saixo, early Filipino printers.

All bibliophiles know about Tomas Pinpin, who has been reduced in textbooks to the title “Prince of Filipino Printers.” I wonder how an elementary-school teacher will deal with a bright student who will ask for the names of the King and Queen of Filipino Printers. Lopez was able to acquire two books by Pinpin dated 1625 and 1637.

The Lopez collection also has one work by a certain Simon Pinpin, probably related to Tomas, who published a llorosa descripcion or tearful description of the funeral of Miguel de Poblete, archbishop of Manila, who lived a holy life that ended with a pious death on Dec. 8, 1667. Simon Pinpin’s obscure book was published by the Jesuit Press in 1668.

The printer most represented in the Lopez collection is Gaspar de los Reyes, who worked in the Dominican-run Santo Tomas Press. His six works are dated 1672, 1675, 1688, 1692, plus two imprints printed in 1697. Following second is Raymundo Magisa, with four works: three imprints from the Dominican press (one dated 1634 and two dated 1635) and one imprint from the Jesuit Press regarding volcanoes that is dated 1641.

Other imprints in the Lopez collection are by Luis Beltran (one work published in 1640), Reymundo Peñafort (one book published in 1683), and Santiago Dimatangso (two books from the Jesuit Press in 1675 and 1678). Then there are three others with no printer’s names indicated.


These bibliographic data are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and I wish some young Filipino would undertake a doctorate in book history and write a definitive account of early Filipino printers as the first step in the building of a history of ideas in the Philippines.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ayala Museum, Eugenio Lopez Sr., Filipinas Heritage Library, filipiniana, History, National Library of the Philippines, Philippine history, rare books, Sona, Sona 2014, State of the Nation Address

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