Doctrina Christiana. The first book printed in the Philippines, Manila, 1593.

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Doctrina Christiana. The first book printed in the Philippines, Manila, 1593.
Христианское вероучение. Первая книга, отпечатанная на Филиппинах, Манила, 1593.
A Facsimile of the copy in the Lessing J. Rosenwald
Collection, Library

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Doctrina Christiana

The First Book Printed in the Philippines.
Manila, 1593. A Facsimile of the Copy in
the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection.
Library of Congress, Washington.
With an Introductory Essay
Edwin Wolf 2nd


I want here to express my thanks and appreciation to Mr. Lessing J. Rosenwald, through whose kindness this unique Doctrina was presented to the Library of Congress and with whom the idea of this publication originated. His interest and enthusiasm made possible my work, and his friendly advice and encouragement have been both valuable and heart-warming.

I also wish to thank others who have given me great assistance. They are Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach to whom I continually turned for advice, Dr. Lawrence C. Wroth of the John Carter Brown Library and Dr. Leslie W. Dunlap of the Library of Congress who very kindly read over my manuscript and gave me the benefit of their suggestions and criticisms, Mr. David C. Mearns and Miss Elsie Rackstraw of the Library of Congress and Mrs. Ruth Lapham Butler of the Ayer Collection of the Newberry Library who so freely and generously made available to me the great collections of works on the Philippines in their libraries, Dr. John H. Powell of the Free Library of Philadelphia who helped me find reference books of the utmost importance, and the many librarians who courteously answered written queries about early Philippine material. Edwin Wolf 2nd.

Doctrina Christiana

The first book printed in the Philippines has been the object of a hunt which has extended from Manila to Berlin, and from Italy to Chile, for four hundred and fifty years. The patient research of scholars, the scraps of evidence found in books and archives, the amazingly accurate hypotheses of bibliographers who have sifted the material so painstakingly gathered together, combine to make its history a bookish detective story par excellence.

It is easy when a prisoner has been arrested and brought to the dock to give details of his complexion, height, characteristics and identifying marks, to fingerprint him and to photograph him, but how inadequate was the description before his capture, how frequently did false scents draw the pursuer off the right track! It is with this in mind that we examine the subject of this investigation, remembering that it has not been done before in detail. And, to complete the case, the book has been photographed in its entirety and its facsimile herewith published.

In studying the Doctrina Christiana of 1593 there are four general problems which we shall discuss. First, we shall give a physical description of the book. Secondly, we shall trace chronologically the bibliographical history of the Doctrina, that is, we shall record the available evidence which shows that it was the first book printed in the Philippines, and weigh the testimonies which state or imply to the contrary. Thirdly, we shall try to establish the authorship of the text, and lastly, we shall discuss the actual printing.

It hardly needs be told why so few of the incunabula of the Philippines have survived. The paper on which they were printed was one of [2] the most destructible papers ever used in book production. The native worms and insects thrived on it, and the heat and dampness took their slower but equally certain toll. Add to these enemies the acts of providence of which the Philippines have received more than their share—earthquake, fire and flood—and the man-made devastations of war, combined with the fact that there was no systematic attempt made in the Philippines to preserve in archives and libraries the records of the past, and it can well be understood why a scant handful of cradle-books have been preserved. The two fires of 1603 alone, which burned the Dominican convent in Manila to the ground and consumed the whole of Binondo just outside the walls, must have played untold havoc upon the records of the early missionaries. Perhaps the only copies of early Philippine books which exist today, unchronided and forgotten, are those which were sent to Europe in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and may now be lying uncatalogued in some library there.

One copy of this Doctrina was sent to Philip II by the Governor of the Philippines in 1593; and in 1785 a Jesuit philologist, Hervas y Panduro, printed Tagalog texts from a then extant copy. Yet, since that time no example is recorded as having been seen by bibliographer or historian. The provenance of the present one is but imperfectly known. In the spring of 1946 William H. Schab, a New York dealer, was in Paris, and heard through a friend of the existence of a 1593 Manila book. He expressed such incredulity at this information that his friend, feeling his integrity impugned, telephoned the owner then and there, and confirmed the unbelievable “1593.” Delighted and enthused, Schab arranged to meet him, found that he was a Paris bookseller and collector who specialized in Pacific imprints and was fully aware of the importance of the volume, and induced him to sell the precious Doctrina. He brought it back with him to the United States and offered it to Lessing J. Rosenwald, who promptly purchased it and presented it to the Library of Congress. Where [3] the book had been before it reached Paris we do not know. Perhaps it is the very copy sent to Philip II, perhaps the copy from which Hervas got his text. Indeed, it may have been churned to the surface by the late Civil War in Spain, and sent from there to France. In the course of years from similar sources may come other books to throw more light upon the only too poorly documented history of the establishment of printing in the Philippine Islands.

The Physical Description

Let us first examine the book as it appears before us. The title-page reads:

The book, printed in Gothic letters and Tagalog1 characters on paper made from the paper mulberry, now browned and brittle with age, consists of thirty-eight leaves, comprising a title-page as above, under a woodcut2 of St. Dominic, with the verso originally blank, but in this copy bearing the contemporary manuscript inscription, Tassada en dos rreales, signed Juan de Cuellar; and seventy-four pages of text in Spanish, Tagalog transliterated into roman letters, and Tagalog in Tagalog characters. The size of the volume, which is unbound, is 9⅛ by 7 inches, [4] although individual leaves vary somewhat due to chipping. Some of the leaves have become separated from their complements, but enough remain in the original stitching to indicate that the book was originally made up in four gatherings, the first of twelve leaves, the second of ten, the third of ten, and the fourth of six. Although the book is of the size called quarto, the method of printing must have been page by page, so it is doubtful that each sheet was folded twice in the usual quarto manner, but more probable that it was printed four pages to a sheet of paper approximately 9⅛ by 14 inches, which was folded once.

The volume is printed throughout by the xylographic method, that is to say, each page of text is printed from one wood-block which was carved by hand. Along the inner margins of some pages are vertical lines which were made by the inked edge of the block, and the grain of the wood has caused striations to appear in the printed portions throughout. The unevenness of the impression indicates that the pages were printed in some primitive manner without the help of a conventional press.

The paper, which is one of the distinctive features of most old Oriental books, has been discussed at length by Pardo de Tavera in his study of early Philippine printing, and we can do no better than translate the relevant passage in full:

“I have said before that the material composition of our books is inferior. The imprints before 1830 were made on a paper called by some rice paper, by others silk paper, and by still others China paper, according to their taste. It is detestable, brittle, without consistency or resistance, and was called rice paper because it was supposed to be made from that grain. It was the only kind then used in the Philippines, not only for printing, but for all manner of writing, letters, etc., and it is even recorded that in 1874 when tobacco was a state monopoly, cigarettes were made with this paper, and that the Indians and Chinese preferred it (and perhaps they still do) to rag paper or other kinds, because of the horrible taste it gives the tobacco.

Doctrina Christiana. The first book printed in the Philippines, Manila, 1593.
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