Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Phillipps MSS Catalogue Online

Catalogus Librorum Manuscriptorum in Bibliotheca D. Thomæ Phillipps, Bart., A.D. 1837 (Impressus Typis Medio-Montanis, 1837[–1871]).
I have a copy of the Orskey-Johnson reprint (2001) of the Phillipps catalogue. In the introduction A.N.L. Munby states that he knows of only about fifteen complete, or substantially complete, copies of the catalogue, of which only seven are available for consultation in public institutions, at the BL, London; Bodleian, Oxford; UL, Cambridge; BnF, Paris; KB, The Hague; Harvard, Cambridge (MA); and Newberry, Chicago. The reprint is a copy of one formerly owned by David Lew Feldman, New York.

[Any reader who does not know what an extraordinary book the Phillipps catalogue is, should consult the first volume of Munby's Phillipps Studies (1951), or this very brief summary]

In connection with an enquiry from a reader a couple of days ago I tried Googling a phrase from the catalogue, hoping that it might lead me to the present whereabouts of one of the manuscripts, but it took me instead to an online copy of the catalogue itself, of which I was unaware.

The library stamp on the title-page (image above) is not entirely clear, but according to Google's Bibliographic Information, it was digitized less than a year ago, from the copy at the "National Library of the Netherlands" (i.e. the Royal Library, The Hague):

The availability of this catalogue will make lots of provenance research much easier for anyone who encounters a Phillipps manuscript in future.

In a future post I may discuss the resources available for tracing the present whereabouts of Phillipps MSS, but in brief, the most important ones known to me are: a card index in the Manuscripts Reading Room of the British Library (approximately 10,000 cards, compiled largely by Munby); an interleaved and heavily-annotated copy of the catalogue at the Bodleian Library, kept up to date over the decades by the Medieval MSS curatorial staff, as well as numerous other Phillipps resources (see e.g. here and here); and annotated catalogues at Sotheby's. There are doubtless other valuable resources with the Munby Collection at Cambridge University Library, but I have never explored them.

A few years ago I suggested to AMARC that, instead of giving away its significant cash surplus in dribs and drabs, often just to a few lucky individuals each year, that they should use some of this money to sponsor a project that would be of real benefit to the worldwide MSS community: I suggested the compilation of a web-based database of Phillipps manuscripts, using resources such as those above; but after some initial interest the idea was quashed by AMARC's then-Chairman. I still think it would be a good idea, because so many people need to find out about Phillipps MSS, and so much information exists only in handwritten, unpublished form; here, for example, are some typical pages of the Bodleian copy of the Phillipps catalogue:
[Click images to see larger versions]

I explained some of these heavily abbreviated annotations at the end of a previous post.

The Bodleian also keeps track of Phillipps MSS and charters which were not catalogued by Phillipps in his lifetime, as a simple numerical list:

A percentage of pre-1600 Phillipps MSS can be traced using the Schoenberg Database, but it would be enormously useful to have a more systematic resource, such as a complete Phillipps database. Perhaps the availability of a complete online copy of the catalogue will inspire someone to initiate such a project?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for this, Peter. As part of my EU-funded project "Reconstructing the Phillipps Collection" (2014-16), I am gathering as much information as I can about the subsequent history and present whereabouts of the Phillipps manuscripts. I am planning to make my data available before the end of the project, and I'd be interested in people's views on the best ways of doing this. I currently have some data in a Neo4j graph database and some in a private Nodegoat database ( More information about my project is at: