– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

EPBs survey

It’s that time of year – here’s one for the series ‘What can college librarians possibly find to do all summer while the students are away?’ Well, the Library staff are currently carrying out a Grand Shelf Check of all the early printed books – it’s especially important that we know, and record, where everything is because some of the EPBS were moved to St Cross in 2011-13 and some are still in Broad Street. And as always happens with thorough checks like this, all sorts of interesting things are turning up! Some of them include significant proportions of manuscript material – more about this as they emerge. From yesterday:

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Balliol Library 470 a 19 is a very small book – 10 x 6 cm or so. The cover is parchment

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and it’s stitched through the cover on the spine to form a simple cover without boards.

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There is a faint reference number of some kind on the front – it may pertain to an old library shelfmark (Balliol or a previous owner) or it may even be an archival reference, because…

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the cover is in fact a cut-down and reused administrative document. This is not unusual – palimpsests (erased texts that have been written over) get the press these days, but old parchments were often reused in humbler ways, as pastedowns, fly/guard/endleaves, linings, fastenings, page markers and indeed as in this case, covers. Here we can see the title page and the inside of the front cover – the document is upside down.

Oh – the contents of the printed book? Prattica cioe inventione di Conteggiare, published in Brescia by Ludovico Britannico.

Now we know we’re in Italy, back to the cover!

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Part of the document is conveniently shaped to form a fore-edge flap for the book. It’s now very stiff, and has been folded inside the back cover for so long it doesn’t function as a flap anymore.

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Here is what we can see of the document – upper left of what remains of the text, now the upside down lower part of the inside back cover of the book.

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Lower left of the document: the notarial sign and colophon – see Medieval Writing’s useful explanation.

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Back to the front of the book for the right hand side of the document…

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the upper right

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and the lower right.

I don’t have time to familiarise myself with Italian legal documentary formulae, and I don’t know what kind of transaction this document records, or quite how much of it is missing (clearly we have the bottom but not quite the beginning), but I hope somebody who’s practising Italian palaeography and diplomatic may find it interesting! Do drop us a line if so…

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