Vesalius’ unbound Epitome, published in Latin and German in 1543 alongside the first edition, was meant to be a cheap summary of the whole Fabrica for use in teaching, perhaps even during dissection. Probably because it was designed for practical uses, fewer copies survive than either the 1543 or 1555 editions of the valuable, full-length book. Regular use left most surviving copies of the Epitome heavily damaged, ranging from tears along foldings to all kinds of stains.
However, some copies that we examined suggest that at the first sign of wear and tear the prudent and frugal owners decided to bind their Epitomes as books. These show relatively little wear compared to the majority of copies. The Houghton Library’s copy is one such, made even more rare by the fact that a German and a Latin edition are bound together. Another is a beautifully preserved copy at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. This also has another feature rare among Epitomes, namely that it is annotated in Greek.
As we get further into the analytical part of our project, we hope to correlate the patterns of ownership and dissemination of the two book editions with those of the rare Epitomes, and perhaps become able to make more informed guesses about the print runs and uses of this wonderful little work. Our team has already published a list of surviving copies of both the Latin and German Epitomes, which you can consult here.