Monday, July 16, 2007

Manuscript Book Production: A Quiz

Following on a little from my previous post on vellum-and-parchment I found a manuscript illustration which details various aspects of book production. Here it is (Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Ms patr. 5; fol. 1v from In the Beginning was the Word: The Power and GLory of Illuminated Bibles ed A. Fingernagel & C. Gastgeber; Taschen, 2003, p. 21):

The Quiz element is simple: describe what is going on in each of the circles (1 is top left, 10 is bottom right).


  1. If you click on the picture it comes up at a pretty reasonable resolution.

  2. Would you specify what circle corresponds to each number between 1 and 10?

  3. OK, here are a few guesses?
    #1: cutting a pen
    #4: writing w/a stylus on wax tablets?
    #6: scraping a hide
    #7: shaving or shaping a piece of wood?
    #8: appears to be some kind of a scraper? but the nature of the operation seems unclear
    #10: working on a binding?

    Mike Holmes

  4. Well, I was thinking that 1 is top left, 10 is bottom right, so we have basically four rows:
    1 2 3
    4 5
    6 7
    8 9 10

    (This may not be the most logical order!)

  5. 1. Wondering who replaced my BIC with this funny little quill.

    2. Pointing out the fact that these pages are blank.

    3. Trying to use chop sticks without breaking them apart while reading a copy of The Invisible Man.

    4. Writing out shopping list.

    5. Cracking/stretching neck after a long bout of reading with my head down.

    6. Breaking mirror for saying that I'm not the fairest of them all!

    7. Struggling to open my latest package from [Peter M. Head's Christology and
    the Synoptic Problem

    8. Taking the axe to my newest book project... editing is tougher than it looks.

    9. Asking my son what he thinks of these peculiar blank pages.

    10. Getting ready to play dradle... with a... umm... hammer?

    *No textual critics were harmed during the answering of these questions -- it is my sincere prayer that no one was offended by my feeble attempt at humor*

    Nick Norelli

  6. Nick,

    Humour is allowed on the ETC blog (in moderation). Also making fun of my Synoptic Problem book.

    But what is 'dradle'?

  7. Is he binding the manuscript in #5?

  8. Peter,

    'dradle' is my American Gentile way of spelling 'dreidel' which is the 4 sided top that Jewish children (and I'd imagine some adults) play with during Hanukkah. If you do a web search I'm sure pictures will come up and once they do I'm equally sure you'll agree with my interpretation of #10. =)

  9. You can find an interpretation of the ten miniatures in R.M.W. Stammberger, Scriptor und Scriptorium, Graz 2003, p. 40.

    According to this 2+9 depict the book in use (didactic purpose, presentation to a pupil in 9).
    On 1+4+6 see Mike (the tool in 6 is called a "lunellum").
    7 is said to depict the trimming of the skins.
    8+10 are said to depict work on the binding (good guess Mike): the axe in 8 has been used to cut the wooden covers, the hammer to work on the metal guards (?).
    3 is said to depict the sorting of the gatherings.
    5 is said to depict action in preparation for joining the gatherings: the three strings that are eventually glued to the outer part of the book-block are mounted on the right hand edge of the table.

    Ulrich Schmid

  10. This is basically the same as that given in the book I got hte picture from:
    2 & 9 'portray monks reading and teaching wiht the aid of books' [length of index finger in 9 is a worry!]

    1: monk sharpens a stylus
    4: writing on a wax tablet
    6: stretching and scraping the parchment
    8: preparing the wooden boards for the covers

    3: sorting the gatherings
    5: gatherings laid in sewing frame
    7: edges trimmed
    10: clasps hammered on

  11. Ulrich,
    Anything else of interest in Stammberger's book? I'm not familiar with it.

  12. Stammberger's book consists of a 20-page introductory essay entitled "Geschichte und Technik der Buchherstellung und des Buechergebrauchs". To my mind this is too ambitious a title for what is actually presented. The real treasures of the book are the 50 illuminations taken from manuscripts and illustrating the production and use of books. The plates each are beautifully coloured on the "recto" with a one page exposition on the facing "verso".

    Several of the illuminations depict individuals in the process of writing. Apparently, scribes were often operating two instruments when working. In the right hand (all right-handed individuals?) they carry the writing instrument in the left hand they carry a knife. The knife has been used to cut/sharpen the pen, to carry out corrections during the writing process (erasures), and to hold down the the parchment in order to have a flat writing space. Interestingly, the knife is also used in the process of reading without carrying a pen in the other hand (like the intrument used when reading the Torah???).

    I am still pondering over two questions related to the use of the knife as a tool to exert corrections:
    1. Would this tool also be used when writing on papyrus or this the action of scratching with a sharp intrument much too heavy?
    2. What difference is there between individuals that operate both instruments as opposed to individuals that use only a pen? So far I have not been able to find the depiction of a Gospel writer carrying a knife. Does that indicate that they did not need "corrections" for what they were writing down? Or is it rather usual that authors and secretaries that write to dictation would not use such a correcting tool because they were not producing a product meant for publication but a drafted manuscript in the modern (yet pre- desk-top-publishing) sense? The wider background has to be seen in the differences between book-hands and documentary hands.

    The varying ways of depicting individuals as writing might be indicative of diffent occupations. Those with pen and knife are perhaps portrayed as producing a final product meant to be sold/used. Those without a knife then produce a draft?
    Any thoughts?

    Ulrich Schmid

  13. 6 is the process of parchment preparation: the skin is stretched and scraped, and soaked and restretched and rescraped, until it is ready.

    7 look as if an existing book is having something scraped off -- you can erase text with a knife.

  14. What I find most significant is the yarmulke the scribe is wearing.

    Is this a sign of his religious order?