I made a few discoveries about Palatino editions at the Folger Shakespeare Library. I had taken a look at 3 copies of Libro di M. Giouanbattista Palatino at the Newberry printed by Blado. My interest was piqued enough to take a look at the Folger’s copies of Compendio del gran volume. I wrote about the 1566 printing of that title in the last post.
The 1588 copy of this book would appear to be the same, except the typesetting would be different. But as I looked at the 1588 book, I discovered an anomaly that took a minute to figure out. Near the end of the book text was handwritten in the style of the typeface and pasted over a printed text. But only on a couple of pages. It isn’t uncommon to find that a scribe had been employed to make a facsimile of a missing text. However, it is a feat to accomplish copying the type closely because the pen and the graver make two distinctly different kinds of letters. The scribe’s skill is apparent here.
The second thing that is striking is that this book was “made up” meaning it was constructed from various editions of the title sometime after publication in 1588. Taking the time in the late 16th or 17th C. to make up a copy tells of the importance of a Palatino to collectors dating to that era. It also suggests that making up a book from non-historic sources wasn’t looked on too poorly during the previous 3 to 4 centuries.
Making sense of these variations kept me occupied for a few hours and honed my skill at looking for and detecting variations in production, assembly, binding and repair. Early printed books are very much individual objects. Sometimes the variations in production are easy to spot when viewed side by side. The institution may have a second, third or fourth copy of the same title and edition and the books will look almost unrecognizable as the same title because of changes, use and storage in the intervening years.
After a 2 month hiatus, I am back to recording progress on my trip. Coming back and re-establishing myself was more challenging than I imagined – in fact the trip itself was more challenging than I thought it would be. My apologies for leaving you hanging!
Getting into a special collection library can be daunting. University libraries have their system, public libraries have somewhat easier methods and private libraries can be the most restrictive. But things are changing in the library world and the vetting process has become a little less stringent.
The Folger Shakespeare Library requires letters from two individuals with .edu or .org email addresses. Generally that means an academic institution or non-profit research library. I was fortunate to acquire letters from one of each and the librarians said some nice things about me and my project.
I was excited that I was granted entry as a reader. I’ve visited the Folger’s conservation lab a number of times, but going in as a researcher is different than visiting a colleague.
It was raining lightly on Saturday, September 11, 2015 when I rode to the library. My hosts live in Silver Spring, MD about 9 miles from the library, a 45 minute commute during the week. On a Saturday, it’s faster as there is less traffic on the roads.
If I was going to be a riding reader, I should ride to the library at least once while in the nation’s capital. I arrived somewhat damp in my riding gear. The guard didn’t believe that I had permission to enter. After requesting my identification, she told me to stand in the lobby while she checked the reader services desk. I dripped water on the stone floor as I awaited my fate. Would I be allowed into this august library or be thrown out as motorcycle trash? The guard didn’t appear to like a damp biker being allowed into the library. I guess not everybody in the library world has come to embrace motorcyclists?
Requests for items are made prior to arrival so the staff has time to page them, I’d made my request on Friday. Saturday, the hours are curtailed, so it makes sense to do this. Requesting vault or restricted items, they are pulled only during the week.
At the desk, I asked for my books and a young woman in jeans (librarians don’t wear jeans, do they?) brought them to me. She asked why I had requested the particular books I had. Briefly (yeah, right!) I told her about Motoscribendi and my research. She listened attentively and then introduced herself as Heather Wolfe, the curator of manuscripts at the Folger. We stood there for half an hour talking about writing manuals, different calligraphic hands, quill cutting and the world of rare books and the chance to look at old books and manuscripts. It was like meeting an old friend and catching up. Heather’s knowledge and enthusiasm are what makes this kind of work exciting. Meeting with an inquisitive, engaged paleographer happy to talk with me about these things gave me an even greater sense of being a part of something worth pursuing.
Heather teaches paleography classes on the Secretary hand at the library. Even though many manuscripts at the library are in English, they are all but indecipherable without some training. The library has around 60,000 manuscripts many of which are written in a Secretary hand. Heather and her colleagues have been working on a project to teach paleography and get people involved in transcribing documents from the collection. Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) has just launched Shakespeare’s World to use crowdsourcing technology to allow interested individuals to be a part of reading and transcribing these manuscripts.
We talked about quill-cutting, parchment-making and other scribal traditions and how exciting it is to look at these materials and discover things about production and use.
When I went to sit down to look at the books, she apologized for taking me from my work, but the truth was that speaking with her is my work. Getting to look at books and learning more about these writing manuals is important, but I wanted to meet the scholars, librarians and staff that are charged with caring for these books.
After lunch, I came back and continued looking at the books I’d called up. Palatino’s writing manuals have been well researched by Stanley Morison and others, but I think there’s more to learn by looking at these books. A digital copy will only represent one iteration. Each time I open a writing manual, I am excited to see how it has lived and been used.
This interplay of book and reader shows the challenge of learning to master a particular hand. Sometimes the student is not very skilled, and sometimes they are better. And often, the progression is obvious through the book’s progression.
You see in the above image a woodblock that was cut in 1565 being used in the 1566 edition of the Compendio del Gran Volume. This block was cut a year before the printing of this book. It was the norm for woodblocks to be stored and reused in subsequent books. Typesetting for the later editions was newly done yet the woodblock is older. This copy then, has three distinct time element in this one page:
1566: Typeset signature mark at lower right “Ciij”
1667: Manuscript practice, dated to a century later
And on the verso of the leaf marked “Ciij” is another block cut a year later in 1566 with the same 17th century scribe’s annotation of Palatino’s full name.
There’s more to discuss about the Folger’s Palatino collection, and I’ll continue that in my next post.
The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection at the Library of Congress is one of the finest collections of illustrated books in the US. Calligraphy, both in the form of manuscript as well as printed writing manuals, is well represented in the collection. The Rare Book & Special Collections department has other collections that fill in gaps in the printed writing manual subject area. Acquisitions are made to expand their holdings, and I was allowed to review a number of books that have come into the collection but haven’t been cataloged yet.
I was eager to find hidden books in the uncatalogued book truck. Looking at material that hasn’t been pored over is a thrill because I might find an item that hasn’t been researched yet, or has some other importance that awaits discovery. This time, I was rewarded with discovering a new-found friend, Joseph Seavy. I pulled a little blue pamphlet off of the truck, placing a flag to mark its location and knew immediately that I was the first to see this as a related item to the Newberry copy.
The fact that I was looking at another copy, knowing that there may be only one other place that it existed was exciting. The Massachusetts Historical Society’s copy had been microfilmed, but the only images they took were of the cover and inside wrappers. No images of the text pages were available.
I anticipated seeing the watermarked letters, and hoped there would be writing over them to show how people used these instruction books.
You can see the letters in this copy are well-written. And they are of the same style as the letters in the Newberry copy. I turned the page and subsequent pages, and all were filled with a fairly accomplished hand written on both sides of the laid paper.
This is what the Newberry copy looks like:
In both books, the letterforms are the same, the scribal version shows the influence of the pressure of the pointed pen. I’ve asked for a light sheet (a paper thin light source) and lay it behind the one of the manuscript pages but cannot detect a watermark. And the book is laid paper, not wove as is the Newberry copy. So, there’s at least one copy of the book without watermark and LC’s copy doesn’t have a volume number either.
Now I want to know more because this mystery is intriguing. I know of no other copybook where the instruction is produced by watermark. The title and instructions are printed in Boston, 1814 and the price is somewhat inexpensive with a current value around $2.25. That would not be outrageous for a parent to buy a copy of an instruction manual for a child. If all four volumes were purchased it would be around $9.00 today.
How many copies of this series survive? I go back to Worldcat and fight the digital/book blindspot and try to narrow down where an actual book is rather than the mircorform or its digital equivalent. The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA has Vol. 2 & 4. And I’ll be headed there in a few weeks, so I’ve gotten lucky because I’ll be seeing 2 more examples from this series.
I am convinced that there is no watermark letterform present in this pamphlet owned by George W. Fenns. He may have been the scribe that filled this book front to back with competent practice lettering. A quick search fails to find him.
The hunt is on. I want to know more about this book. And I want to know where/how one unnumbered volume has laid paper instead of the watermarked paper. I’ve got more questions than answers – and that is exhilarating.
Italian 16th century writing manuals are numerous, however the rest of the Continent took about half a century to catch up with the innovators. Neudorffer in Germany, Iciar in Spain published prior to the middle of the century, but there was one guy over in Flanders that stood out. When Palatino was making a splash with his Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Gerhard Mercator produced Literarum latinarũ, quas italicas, cursorias- que vocãt, scribendarũ ratio.
As you can see, Mercator went in for flourishes in a big way, even moreso than his Southern contemporaries.
Gerhard Mercator had skill, energy and intelligence and was schooled in writing out texts in all the current hands. He particularly favored the Italic hand for maps and his skill as scribe and engraver led to work in making globes and soon after, maps. He could cut woodblocks as he does in this manual or engrave in copper as he often did for maps. This level of versatility in dexterity, aesthetic and mathematical skills produced an impressive oeuvre.
Whether describing how to hold the pen properly or cut a quill, Mercator’s text is quite clear on how to do it.
Since Mercator wrote on maps, not in books (though he surely did that as well) his graphic design and purpose for flourishing were for a different kind of reading. Maps were important tools for marine navigators to get around. The Mercator projection wasn’t his invention, nor was it much used in his day. But let’s not get hung up on gnarly navigation details and get to his engraved maps. That’s where the fun in lettering and fantastical creatures of the sea are.
Mercator decided to show the Ptolemaic concept of the world in the 1580s and engraved maps based on this earlier world view.
Those flourishes may not be necessary, but they do look nice splashing around that sea creature.
Early writing manuals are important for their innovations in education as well as advancing publishing by making instructional illustrations available to readers at a distance from the instructor. First with woodblock illustration, then copperplate engraving, the illustration techniques required were high tech at the time of their invention. But a few hundred years of engraving and the innovators were eager to try something new.
Joseph Seavy had a bold plan for teaching students how to improve their handwriting by “printing” pages where the lesson was made as a watermark. A watermarked text allowed the student to trace the watermarked letter as a guide.
There is no text printed within the book itself, only on the cover wrappers.
The Newberry copy is No.4 of the series in the title and was never written in because it was reused to dry flowers.
The advertisement suggests that the letters are impressed into the paper as the sheet is formed, but that would be different than what is clearly watermarked letterform.
When I looked online I found that the American Antiquarian Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society have copies. It was an oddity that fascinated but at present was just one more curious 19th century innovation than never went anywhere.
Clearly the pages were designed to maximize the paper mould with four different texts sewn onto the mould. But the work involved would be substantial. Did the printer/publisher have the paper made or did Joseph Seavy? He doesn’t appear in Ray Nash’s American Penmanship 1800 – 1850 and he didn’t publish writing manuals that I could find.
I visited the University of Iowa’s Special Collections library on Tuesday and Wednesday for a couple of hours. While I didn’t know what I would find, I was hoping there’d be something.
The director, Greg Prickman took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to speak with me and talk about how the collection was amassed. There are quite a few incunabula (books printed before 1501) which were acquired from Classics professors donating their collections to permanent loans to purchases to fill out the history of printing subject area.
I discovered that they have 4 writing manuals. Three copies of G. Bickham’s Universal Penman from 1733 and two later dates as well as a 1585 copy of Scalzini’s Il secretario.
Scalzini is known for his flourishes or “command of hand.” He argued that a light touch and quick execution was necessary for a successful commercial scribe. Attacking his senior, Giovanni Francesco Cresci as spending too much time on careful execution and too-sharp a pen nib, Scalzini’s scathing remarks became standard fare for writing-master wars.
In visiting Iowa’s Special Collections reading room, I was impressed by how inviting and comfortable it was as a first time reader to get acclimated. Each library has its own style, rules and etiquette. Iowa welcomes its scholars with a directness and warmth that made me feel welcome instantly. The system for searching and discovering material is straightforward as is the requesting of items for research.
I look forward to going back when I have more than a couple of hours to delve into their collection further.
My Indiegogo Motoscribendi campaign is now up. I’ve made a video describing the kinds of things I’ll be looking at. I volunteered at this week’s conference of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). Hosted in Oakland and on the campus of UC Berkeley’s libraries, hundreds of librarians came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities of libraries in the digital era. It was a good time meeting up with a few old friends and meeting new colleagues from around the country.
When I wasn’t helping out, I was in my shop working on the video and cutting a woodblock logo for the project.
The excitement of cutting letters in wood continues to grab me. Taking a letterform and rendering it in relief in wood is physically demanding and challenging. The resultant printed image transforms the scribal experience.
I’ll have more images of writing books and my own woodcuts posted in a day or two.