Monday, June 19, 2017

Micro-Catalogue of Manuscripts

Ca. 1845 French textbook for
readingmanuscript writing.
After an exceptionally busy May, I've found it hard to do much in June, either. But I have been able to pull together a tiny little list of eight items in the general category of Manuscripts, with two bonus items. 

The eight manuscripts include only two fragments, with the rest being (more or less) complete in themselves, and they span in date from 1210 to the 1750s. 

The bonus items are school books from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, intended to teach the skill of reading manuscript writing to students.

The earlier, French example appears to take the task even more seriously, and the dozens of examples of script are seemingly arranged in increasing degrees of difficulty: the student who makes it through the entire book, presumably, will be able to read any of the difficult scripts that life in 19th-century France could throw at one. 

Intriguingly, this little French schoolbook also includes an example of handwriting that seems to be explicitly derived from late medieval Gothic script: though I've encountered more than one nineteenth-century French manuscript that was intended to look like a Gothic manuscript, I ever expected that such writing might have been current, to the point of being taught in schools.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mini-Catalogue 174: Mostly Fragments and Leaves

It was interesting over the past several weeks to see news stories crossing my Facebook-desk about recent discoveries in the field of incunabula fragments: a fragment of the Gutenberg bible still in place as a binding wrapper and a new Caxton leaf. 

Just as I pick up medieval manuscript binding fragments when I can, I also pick up recycled incunabula fragments when I can, though I've never found a Caxton or Gutenberg leaf--and perhaps I never shall. 

But among my recent acquisitions have been a number of interesting recycled fragments, both manuscript and print, and my new little mini-catalogue 174 describes them in some detail. 

4 early English printed leaves, 1530-ca. 1553. Note the
acidic paper frames on the two rightmost leaves, and the
remains of a similar frame on the second leaf. These frames
are evidence of long association of these leaves.
Readers will see, also, that I've included some early printed leaves that show no clear sign of having been recycled in bindings: like medieval manuscripts, early printed books were (and sometimes still are) often enough cut up for the market. I generally try to steer clear of such items, but now and again, I come across some leaves that were probably dispersed the better part of a century ago. It seems to me that such leaves should not be spurned: they, too, sometimes have something important to tell us about the history of books. 

One lot in the catalogue involves a big lot of twenty such leaves, which seem to have travelled together for a long time now. Another lot includes two leaves, probably from the same English book, that I have been able to bring back together.

Such leaves are out there: it is our task to do good for them, when we can.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Back from the 'Zoo (and a Recent Acquisition)

I had a long weekend at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, where I got to feel like both an academic and a bookseller, all at the same time. I saw old friends and met some new folks, and made a few sales. It was just what I wanted from the Congress.

Tiny little leather-bound book. 
Oh, and I want to the dance, and I did not dance.

Arriving back home, I had no fewer than four packages in the mail waiting for me. With a little concentration, I finally remembered what three of them were before I opened them up, but one didn't ring any bells. A week out of the house, and I can't remember what I spent money on a week before.

Rather than a package shaped like a book, this was a small cardboard box, the kind of thing I'd ship a glass toothpick holder or salt shaker in. I had no idea what was in it.

When I opened it up, of course, I found a tiny little book. 

I measure the height of this book to be 3 9/16". According to the website of the Miniature Book Society, American collectors would find this too large to be counted as a true miniature book, although European collectors, apparently, would consider it a miniature: their defining size appears to be ten centimeters.

Regardless, it is, I am certain, the smallest manuscript I've had the pleasure to own.

Inside, there are 252 numbered paper pages, although the scribe seems to have finished his or her work on page 203. It seems to be a book of private devotion, written entirely in Latin, and probably deriving from Bohemia, as the reference on the first page to "S Johannes Nepomuc[eni]" about half way down the page perhaps suggests. 

Most written pages seem to have between 17 and 19 lines of writing; that's about 6 lines of writing per inch. Even so, the script is generally clear and legible, and the book as a whole probably dates from sometime in the 1700s. 

A book this size, it seems to me, is a very personal item: although neither the scribe nor owner (if they weren't in fact the same person) seems to have left a name for us to find, but the contents and the size together, somehow, give us a sense of a real human being. 

Miniature it may be, but of greater importance or significance, it somehow seems, for all that: it feels like it tells us something about its early life in a way a larger size book would not. 

What a delight it was to pull such a little gem from a box when I came back home.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Off to the 'Zoo (Kalamazoo, that is!)

Every May, medievalists gather for the big Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It is an academic conference, primarily, and I always love to go, since I have a lot of friends I sometimes only get to see at Kalamazoo.

A small charter from 1210
In recent years, I've also set up a booth in the book room, where I've tried to offer a selection of medieval materials of interest to individuals and sometimes even institutions trying to build or strengthen their teaching collections. 

It's a lot of fun, trying to find good homes for wonderful items, and for me at least, it's always been a great thrill to own medieval materials. I have always been fascinated with old books and manuscripts--all old things, really--and there is no substitute for holding something in your hands, and even owning it, to help you learn about it and learn from it.

It also makes me feel personally involved in helping to pass these things along to future generations: and it's something anyone can do. It's a reminder that we are all, always, in a position to help transmit our cultural treasures to the future: this is not work for libraries and museums only. 

Of course, some medieval manuscripts are very expensive, but there are many college textbooks that cost more these days than some medieval manuscript or printed incunabula fragments. It's an interesting statement about how academics (and others) value books, both old and new. 

My image here shows one item that I'll be taking to Kalamazoo, a new acquisition, it is a cute little charter from France, written in 1210. I think it's the oldest charter I've been fortunate to have, and while I'd love to find a good home for it, I certainly wouldn't mind hanging onto it for a while myself, either.

If any of my readers out there are medievalists going to Kalamazoo, I very much hope you'll stop by my booth in the book room!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Eastern National Antiques Show, Carlisle, PA, May 5-6

The truck is all loaded up with boxes again for the Eastern National Antiques Show in Carlisle. This is a twice-a-year show with something like sixty years of continuity: one of the oldest and best glass shows in the country, though you can find a few other things there, too: some jewelry, for example, and other things. 

Heisey 4-light candelabrum
But most people bring their glass to sell, and many buyers come for the glass. Since glass is in my blood, I have always dealt a bit in glass, though my real love these days is books, of course (more on that, next week). 

All my newest acquisitions in glass, pretty much, were already boxed up and priced before I got around to working up this blog post: all I had left was the crystal candelabra shown at the left.

This piece was probably made some time before World War II, possibly even in the first quarter of the twentieth century: it's a bit hard to date precisely, and similar pieces (to hold two or three candles) were certainly made into the 1950s. 

But before the war, and again after the war, the dangling prisms that were intended to catch the candlelight and reflect it around on candelabra like this were produced by the millions in Bohemia, then imported and re-sold by American manufacturers like A H Heisey & Co., who made this candelabrum. For a short time during the war, Heisey tried to make a pressed substitute, when the German/Czech/Bohemian sources were unavailable, but there's no substitute for cut and polished glass.

More recently, here in Morgantown, we were out of power for six or eight hours on Monday night: too bad I didn't have any candles to put in this, or I'd have had no problem reading all evening. 

It could've been an evening of unexpected elegance. But we had no candles, alas.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Mini-Catalogue 173 Announcement: Graphic Narratives and Related Items

I am finally getting around to posting another little list or catalogue; this one is only partially illustrated, but if you'd like to see an image of anything, please just email me! 

This list has a number of books or items signed by Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware, as well as important or unusual titles from many of the major figures in the field, as well as a few unusual items going back to around 1860 or so. There's also a signed first edition of Alison Bechdel's brilliant Fun Home

Most of the items here are first editions, of course, and I've been generous in a couple of instances in my definition of comics, but everything here juxtaposes word and image in some key or interesting way, and for me, at least, that's at the heart of comics.

And it wouldn't be a list from me if it didn't include an oddball item or two. 

I hope folks enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Incunable initials

One leaf from Gratianus's Decretum (Strassburg: 
Grüninger, 1490). Recycled as binding
Of course my first love, in the realm of books, is medieval manuscript material, although the price range I am usually working in hasn't often given me opportunities to buy complete medieval books. And because I never wanted to contribute to the practice of dismembering books in the present, many of the least expensive manuscript leaves that one can find for sale are also something I have generally not been interested in buying. 

As a result, my buying (and, to a degree, selling) of medieval manuscript items has focused on recycled medieval material: usually leaves or fragments recycled as binding materials in later books.

Of course a similar fate often met early printed books, and in recent years, I've also begun looking for incunabula fragments recycled in bindings. One benefit of doing so, of course, is that it gives me a whole new area for learning about old books, which is a delight.

One of the things I have long known about incunabula (books printed before 1501) is that they were often manuscripts as well, or at least intended to be: very frequently, space was left for capital letters. The printers imagined or intended that these spaces be filled in by hand, usually with painted initials. Not only did many early printed books look like manuscripts, they were, in part, actual manuscripts, with at least some letters entered by hand.

Recently, I came across the pictured fragments from an incunabula edition of the Decretum of Gratianus, a standard legal text, with commentary.  

I was surprised, when I was looking these leaves over, to note that some of the red initial letters had been printed, while some had been inserted by hand.
Note in the left-hand column, the "O" and
"E" have been printed, while the "A" and
"P" were painted in by hand.

The printed red portions include not only these initials, but rubricated headings and even the running headings at the tops of the pages. There was enough material that the printer wanted to appear in red that it was worth the effort to set up a two-color printing process.

But even so, Grüninger apparently still felt the book would be best, if alternating initials were added in by hand, ideally in a contrasting color. In this copy, the contrast is not very strong: the hand-painted initials here might be in a purplish color, rather than red, but blue or green would certainly have provided a stronger and more effective contrast. 

I find details like this fascinating; perhaps those who work more closely and frequently with early printed books than I do will be thoroughly familiar with this sort of thing, but it seems to me to offer a wonderful insight into a late fifteenth-century idea of just how colorful a book ought to be. It has only been recently, after all, that we have begin to have a renewed appreciation for color in our texts.

Note that, beneath the capital "S" at the bottom of
the image here, there is a small printed lower-case
"s" (the tall form) to guide the scribe who added the painted letters. A printed "S" appears
at the upper right. 
[Bibliographic note: I attribute these fragments to Grüninger's 1490 edition with some, but not complete, confidence. The same printer printed the same text in 1489 and in 1490, and an electronic facsimile of the 1489 edition can be found online. In comparison with the facsimile, my edition seems to share the same types, the same text upon each page, and the same set of printed capital letters, but it is also a clearly different setting. My conclusion that these leaves come from the 1490 edition seems reasonable, but in the absence of an actual comparison to a complete copy of that edition, it must remain an attribution only.]