Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Modern Scrolls: A Crankie and an Album

A "crankie," dated 2017.
One of the things I love about the work I do now is the ongoing realization of just how much I get to learn in the doing of it. When I was a working academic, I was interested, of course, in material text, in the ways and forms of writing and writing supports. But in the work I do now, pretty much by just keeping my eyes open, I find—surprisingly often—things that I never expected to find, things I never knew existed.

Although this crankie seems to be titled "Fall,"
I can't help seeing this page as an echo of
"Sumer is I-cumen In"


So today, I’m sharing two such things, from among my more-or-less recent purchases. One is an item I bought last fall, when Rosemary and I went to the craft sale that’s held every year during “Mountaineer Week.” A local artist who makes prints was selling what he called “crankies.” I’d never heard of a crankie, but I knew what I was looking at: a book in the form of  a scroll, held in a box with two handles, for advancing and reversing the pages.

Title/colophon page, with pencil signature and date
(neither of which shows well in my image)

 As I found out (and as you might find, with some internet searching), there seems to be a whole kind of folk-festival crankie world, and—rightly or wrongly—there seems to be some claim or perception that crankie panoramas were a feature of nineteenth-century American folk performance, perhaps especially in places like Appalachia. 

I had known, of course, that large-scale painted panoramas had had a vogue in nineteenth-century America (and elsewhere), but somehow it had never occurred to me that smaller ones might have been made and used. Presumably they were. 

The back of the crankie, showing its cigar-box origins.


This crankie is made, as it turns out, from a wooden cigar box: it is an example of recycling in itself, as much as it is a scroll. Of course I bought it. I am sorry now that I didn't also buy one of the tiny examples made from a matchbox. Next year, perhaps.

Then, at an antique auction a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to purchase an actual nineteenth-century example of a book in the form of a scroll. 

Robinson's Patent Photograph Album scroll (note:
this example lacks its original lid, which
had two windows, allowing two photos
to be displayed at a time).

The Robinson's Patent Photograph Album was probably always an unusual thing, and I think it's safe to say examples are scarce today. Some have turned
Title Page
up before
this is not the first one known—but I think they are usually collected as parts of photography collections, rather than as books (I couldn't find an example on WorldCat, for one). Yet the title page distinctly calls this item an album, even if the language of patenting and manufacturing used there also suggests that the original makers weren’t really thinking of it in book-like terms.

The photos that have been placed into this particular album, it may be worth noting, include both albumen prints (such as one might find on cartes de visit) and tintypes.

And while I am not certain that I am correct, I think that patents at this period extended for fourteen years, with a possible extension of seven more: so, given the cited patent date in 1865, this particular album must probably date from between 1865 and 1886.

Two tintype photos.

Scrolls, I guess I have learned, are a physical format for books that is not limited to the distant past. 


Monday, June 3, 2019

Golden Dragons: some recycled manuscript fragments?

I have long been interested in the recycling of manuscripts and early printed books. In truth, I'm also interested in the recycling of more recent books and textual materials, but I can't help being fascinated with those items that have survived the longest, even when they survive only as fragments.


"REGLE": pasted-in cut-outs? (Note how
the G appears to be inverted)
As a rule, recycled items were valued for something other than the words they contained: binding fragments were generally used as strengtheners, their vellum more substantial than paper. Sometimes paper incunabula pages were pasted together to make boards (pasteboards, I'd call them). 

When I get such items, however, I generally do my best to attend once more to the textual component: I try to read these fragments, and in the case of manuscript items, I often use what I know of paleography to date and localize the fragments and texts. 

In a recent purchase, however, I've come across some bits that look to me like recycled fragments of medieval manuscripts, but most of my tools for reading them and dating them fail: where there is a textual component, it is made up only of capital letters--which are not well treated in the paleographical resources I use most often. And other bits are pure decoration: gold dragons. 




And yet it seems likely that these can be dated: my best guess from what I see here is a date perhaps in the 1300s, perhaps from France (or Germany?). But I'd be happy to be corrected, or guided to a better sense of them.




All of these pieces, both letters and dragons, stand a bit above the surface of the paper pages they appear on: I think they are cut from another book and mounted here. But the nature of gold manuscript additions has sometimes involved a palpably thick buildup of material upon the page surface as preparation for receiving the gold: so I'm not 100% certain these are recycled at all. But I'm pretty.




Whatever these are, they are such fun! 



Note that the decorative blue dots and red tongues have been added at the time of remounting these pieces, and they are not part of the original dragons. Also, the dragons may originally have been oriented vertically, in the side margin, though in their current use, they are horizontal, as I've shown them. 





Wednesday, May 29, 2019

John Hassall's Berlyn Tapestrie [ca. 1915]

Two weeks ago, I wrote here about some surprising (to me) war work undertaken by medievalists during World War I. This week, I'm happy to show off a different item; a parodic re-telling of Kaiser Wilhelm's invasion of Flanders in the mode of the Bayeux Tapestry.
Hassall's Berlyn Tapestrie

The format of this book is an unusual one: it is a long, folded panorama, printed on one side only (at Bayeux, one can purchase as a souvenir a similar accordion-fold reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry). Printed (probably) in 1915, it made use of cheap pulp paper, and the acidity of the paper now means that my copy is very fragile and subject to chipping, splitting, and loss.



The artist, John Hassall, was one of England's best-known commercial illustrators in his day, and his works were probably most often encountered in posters, advertisements, and children's books. But the Berlyn Tapestrie shows us at the very least that Hassall was familiar with the Anglo-Saxon Bayeux Tapestry.



I do not know if it was a commonplace the time to compare Flanders to England, and the Germans to the Normans, but certainly that's at least part of the effect of this little book. The Berlyn Tapestrie was reprinted by Oxford in 2014, but--as always--I find the original publication, despite its fragility, to be far more interesting. 


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A small collection of Great War pamphlets

I just came back from the big Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, where I got to catch up a bit with some old friends, and to meet or re-meet some newer ones—including some I hardly recognized, to my chagrin. As always, it was great fun to show off some of the manuscripts and other items I’ve found lately, even if I was pretty sure some of the things wouldn’t (and didn't) sell. And I went to the dance, but I did not dance.

But even while I was off in Kalamazoo, I still bought a thing or two, and while I was away, a big box of WWI pamphlets and booklets was delivered. Listed as containing 110 items, I guessed I’d find something of interest in such a big batch of booklets, and the price was right, I thought.

Around 100 WWI pamphlets
How surprising, however, to find the work of medievalists—and familiar names at that—cropping up over and over in the collection. 

Much of what is in the collection might come under the broadest heading of “propaganda”: arguments in support of entering or continuing the war, pro- and anti-German pamphlets, accusations of enslavement and other atrocities. Most of the items, it turns out, are not especially rare as individual pieces, but there are a couple scarcer items present, too. But the whole collection together gains something by its sheer mass.

Pamphlets by Lloyd George,
Parker, Noyes, and Hope.
It is interesting, for example, to see the literary names who published in this genre: besides familiar political figures like David Lloyd George, there are pamphlets by the English poet Alfred Noyes and the novelist Anthony Hope, best remembered today for The Prisoner of Zenda. The Canadian novelist Gilbert Parker is, perhaps, somewhat less well remembered today, but he was prolific as a propagandist. 

More surprising to me were the contributions of two medieval scholars. Two items in the collection were written by Joseph Bedier, best known for his scholarly critical editions of Old French romances. Seeing these works about German atrocities in WWI were very much a surprise to me. Equally surprising was the little pamphlet “Why America Fights Germany” by the well-known Stanford Chaucerian, J. S. P. Tatlock, published as part of the American “War Information Series” issued by the Committee on Public Information, a governmental committee created by an Executive Order from Woodrow Wilson.  

2 by Joseph Bedier and one by J S P Tatlock.

Today, of course, I can describe Bedier and Tatlock as medievalists: at the time, however, it may well have been more accurate to describe them as prominent literary men in the scholarly mode: like Noyes, Parker, and Hope, their reputations were of use in the propaganda business. The academy was, perhaps, less isolated from public affairs at that time, and medieval studies was the most prominent and important area in the literary academy. I am not sure I really regret the loss of that prominence, though it may be useful to remember that it was only a hundred years ago when most of the world's key literary academics studied the middle ages.

Most surprising of all to me in this batch of booklets was the name of Charles Homer Haskins. Haskins was a prominent Harvard historian, and his name lives on now in the Haskins Society, which puts on an annual conference, where I once presented a scholarly paper of my own. A handful of the pamphlets in this collection bear a stamp reading “Harvard College Library Gift of Charles Homer Haskins.” 

4 pamphlets donated to Harvard by Haskins.

Indeed, it seems likely that the whole collection was once deaccessioned by Harvard; many are noted in pencil as duplicates, and most have a notation like “dHC” which seems to mean “duplicate; Harvard College.” Throughout, there are often indicators of who donated these items to Harvard, including at least one apparently donated by Abbot Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s president, the brother of poet Amy Lowell. 

Anyway, Charles Homer Haskins was, besides being a historian who wrote about the middle ages, a more prominent figure in the aftermath of the war. According to the Wikipedia entry on Haskins, he had met Woodrow Wilson at Johns Hopkins, and then served as one of three advisors to the president at the Paris Peace Conference where the Treaty of Versailles was drafted. Although they first caught my eye because I knew Haskins’s name as a medievalist, to have these books of “War Information” that were once owned by one of the few advisors Wilson brought with him to Paris makes this collection seems especially interesting: linked directly to Haskins and thence to Wilson and Versailles.

I sometimes dream of becoming a “public medievalist,” but I would be daunted to advise a president on something so momentous as the peace to follow a world war. I think my ambition is more modest: most often, I hope to find items like this collection that teach me something, and I hope to share what I learn and find such items a home.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Pre-Kalamazoo Work Frenzy

Things here at the Chancery Hill homestead look a bit like they've been stirred with a stick, as an old family saying has it (an alternative is to say the whole place "looks like a Hoo-ra's nest," although what sort of mythical beast a Hoo-ra might be has never been clear. But their nests are always a mess).
Large vellum binding fragment, about 13" tall. 

Anyway, I've been trying to gear up for the annual Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, where I am giving a paper and also setting up a booth to try to sell--or at least show off--some of the weird and wonderful things I've managed to acquire over the past year or so.

This has meant digging through the things I've bought, writing descriptions, and putting prices on them.

Every year, I fear I won't be able to replace the material I sell with equally interesting stuff. And it's certainly true that each year, I bring very different kinds of things: apparently, I don't so much have a typical range of stock as I have a penchant for moving into new areas.

But I always have room in my stock for interesting examples of medieval manuscript fragments that have been recycled in old bindings.

The example I'm showing in today's blog post is a large and handsome one, probably from France and probably from around the year 1400 or so. The shape of the folds and cuts make it certain this leaf was used in a later binding. The exceptionally large margins are notable, as is the folio number at the top (dxxvi) suggesting that this once came from a truly massive book.

Originally, the alternating initials here were in gold and blue, though much of the gold has now been lost: but it was an impressive book, too, in its use of gold. 

It appears to have been recycled as the wrapper for a document or book in 1612; that date appears in the lower margin of the verso, inverted--meaning the visible text on this fragment was upside down in relation to the newly-made book it was used upon.


All of this is only part of what makes this fragment interesting, though. As this second image shows, this leaf is accompanied by a thin plywood panel cut to match the shape of the leaf quite precisely. Indeed, pinholes (or something of the sort) pierce both leaf and panel at the corners, so it's clear this wood panel was made so the leaf could be hung upon the wall. While many another leaf, including binding fragments, has been framed behind glass, this one was not given quite such a formal presentation.

Remarkably the side edges of the plywood board have been painted white. Even more amazingly, traces of white paint can be seen on the edges of the leaf, for all the world not looking like later, dry offsetting, but looking rather as if the paint was applied while the leaf was on the board. 

And this is the marvelous conundrum of binding fragments: in 1612, when this leaf was recycled, and in the 20th century, when attached to this board, the original leaf was both seen as useful and valuable and as (comparatively) worthless and unimportant. Too good to throw away, but certainly not worth taking good care of.

I find the ways this contradictory impulse gets expressed in different centuries to be fascinating, and of course it remains in effect in some areas in our own time. 

Anyway, for those of your who are coming to Kalamazoo, please drop by and visit me in the Exhibits Hall. I would love to show off some of my interesting and oddball items to you, and if you have no intention of purchasing anything, that's no problem at all: anything that doesn't sell, I get to hold on to for a while. 

The verso of the leaf and the back of the board showing
the hanger and the white paint.



Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Thomas Rowley: Latin Poet?

Foolish though it may by, I am obnoxious enough to think that I ought to be able to solve all the mysteries that a new acquisition throws my way. One in a while, however, I buy something that might benefit from a real expert in the areas in question.  Fortunately, I have some friends and acquaintances out there with many specializations; this little blog post will leave many questions unanswered, but I'd be delighted if any of my readers could help me answer them, or even come closer to answers.
Rowley's Latin poem.

The item in question is a pair of printed binding fragments. When I purchased these, they were billed as incunabula fragments, but I suspect they are slightly later. The printed text appears to be Nicolas Panormitano's Repertorium super Decretalium, but with some additional materials I haven't traced in any actual incunabula printings (the additions are common in printings from the later 16th century; I haven't yet determined when and where they first were printed). I'd guess from the style of printing that these printed fragments derive from the first half of the sixteenth century. 

On their own, these scraps from an old legal book might not be especially interesting, but these are covered with scribbles and texts from a Englishman, Thomas Rowley, perhaps dating around 1600.


Two post-incunabula binding fragments with
Rowley's writing, none of which appears in the
center sections, corresponding to the spine
of the newer book in which they were re-used.

I haven't been able to trace Rowley: the name isn't uncommon, and Thomas Chatterton seems to have used the name for a late medieval poet who was the product of his own hoaxing imagination--a coincidence that further complicates internet searches on the name. But Rowley used these leaves (which must have been the free end-pages of a book he owned) for a variety of little bits and bobs, including the four lines of Latin verse pictured above.

To the best of my abilities in transcription, these verses read as follows:


Justitiam regnumque dei super omnia quære
Sic tibi largientur cætera cuncta satis
Cras[. . . . . . . . ] cures, curet sibi crastinus ipse
Sufficit ille dies tempus in omne malis.

This passage is followed by his signature, "Thomas Rowley" (at the bottom left of the top image, you may see his name written another time, with "Th / Rowly" just legible. Many of these items seem to be mere pen-trials). 

I am unsure of some parts of the transcription: "largientum" is probably wrong; the ellipses mark out a passage I'm even less sure of. Again, any clarification would be much appreciated. I think this is a syllable-counting verse form, rather than hexameters, but Latin meters are not my strongest suit, either.

Elsewhere, Rowley's notes here include a tag from Vergil and the poetic version of the Lord's Prayer (beginning “O pater omnipotens clarique") that was most familiar from having been used in Lyly's Grammar. Such passages are easily searchable on the web. But these four poetic lines I have not been able to trace, nor Rowley's evocative English line "The Gordian knot w[hi]ch nothing canne vnloose but death." 

With his expressive italic script, Rowley seems to have been well enough educated, and perhaps even a bit ambitious in a literary way, if we can judge his writing by so few bits. I wish I knew a bit more about him.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Mini-Catalogue 192: Poetry, Manuscripts, Archives.

I've spent a good part of the last several weeks getting some new bridge-work done on my "two front teeth," as the old song has it. I lost one of them in a basketball encounter with the back of a friend's head in the early nineties, and just like all across the country, I guess the infrastructure in my mouth was finally beginning to crumble. Luckily, I was in a position where I could get it replaced.

English calligraphic broadside poem, ca. 1782

But I've also been able to put together a little list of 15 items, loosely grouped under the triple rubric of "Poetry, Manuscripts, Archives."  As usual, when I cobble together such groupings, some items fit more than one of the categories.

Included, of course, is the calligraphic poem pictured above, an English item I cannot help but compare to the colorful manuscripts that were being produced at the same time by Americans working in the "fraktur" tradition, inherited and transformed from German-language regions of Europe. 

Anyway, here's hoping you'll find something in the list to sink your own teeth into.