Discovery (writ small)

I was reminded a couple of weeks ago of the thrill of discovery, or perhaps “discovery.” I’m working with the Five College Medieval Manuscript Digitization Project (website), and was doing some basic work getting some images we can work with for cataloguing (while the nice images are being worked on), and measuring the leaves of the UMass Ege collection. I was curious to know what the next oldest book or leaf in the UMass Special Collections Library was, so I did a really basic search in the library catalogue: location Special Collections and date 1100-1600. I knew there was a copy of Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinzio’s Hecatommiti from 1593, because I’d consulted it a few years ago. Turns out there are a bunch of early printed books, but more importantly for the Manuscript Digitization project, there’s actually another medieval manuscript!

It hasn’t been entered into the project catalogue yet, but I got a chance to look through it. It’s a list in alphabetical order of the interpretation of Hebrew names from the Bible, in a version that was common in the thirteenth century (incipit “Aaz apprehendens”). This particular exemplar has 38 folios (three gatherings of 12 and two leaves at the end), and ends with “Tirus angustia v[e]l tribulatio s[i]v[e] plasmatio aut fortitudo” (transcription from the MARC record).  It’s a fragment of a larger volume, as evidenced by the fact that the gatherings of this piece are numbered 32-35, in pen, in a much later hand. If the first 31 gatherings were also 12 folios each, it’s possible (likely even?) that it contained an entire Bible before the list.

The volume as it is now was rebound in the late 1980s* in marbled paper boards with a leather label on the cover. It also has a clamshell box that’s UMass-made. The library’s MARC record indicates that the volume was bought from Bernard Quaritch in 1988, and the special collections librarian I spoke to about it said that it must have been a gift, since they don’t usually buy from Quaritch. I’ve got a lead on a set of Quaritch catalogues, so I’m going to try to track down the sale and see what else I can find out about the volume. Once I know what sale it was, I might even be able to find out the price and who bought it, since Quaritch keeps an archive of sale catalogues, including as much of the sale information as they can.

In the meantime, despite the fact that this book was in the catalogue and not hidden, I feel like I’ve discovered something. It’s good to know that the thrill is still there.


* The rear paste-down has a watermark with the year 1985, and the special collections librarian was positive that UMass wouldn’t have done that rebinding, so it must be between 1985 and 1988.

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