Saturday, 7 September 2019

The Brölemann Price-Code: A Partial Decipherment?


A recent post caused me to look again at the question of the price-code use by at least one of the Brölemanns, and found in their manuscripts.

In my much older post about the Brölemann catalogues, I wrote that If enough examples could be collected, it ought also to be possible to decipher the Brölemann price-code. From the images we have, it is apparent that x=0, and other numbers are represented by cd,  l, q, s, t, and u.



Looking at all the coded prices in that post, we find the following encoded prices: dcx, uc, ufx, qxx, udx, fc, ucx, dxx, lxx, txx, ufx, fc, and uux, which looks like gibberish.

If we re-arrange them alphabetically, however, with two-digit codes before three-digit ones, some patterns become clearer:
fc
fc
uc

dcx
dxx

lxx

qxx

txx

udx
ucx
ufx
ufx
uux

First, it is now clearer that there are only three two-digit numbers, and of these, two of them begin with f. This is likely to represent a high number, such as 8 or 9: most manuscripts cost a three-digit amount, so a two-digit amount is more likely to be something like 85 or 90 than, say, 15 or 20.

Second, the last digit is always x (doubtless representing 0), except in two-digit numbers, which all end with c, which therefore likely represents 5, if the currency was decimal.

Third, for three-digit numbers, the most common first letter is u (occurring 5 times) and the next most frequent letter is d (occurring twice). As I wrote in my chapter in Ian Jackson's book about price-codes:
[click to enlarge]
Following this logic, the Brölemann code-letters u and d ought to represent the numbers 1 and 2, and we have already surmised above that c = 5.  We already know that other letters include s and t.

This suggests that the Brölemann code may have been based on a very simple mnemonic, in which u = un, d = deux, = trois, q = quatre, c = cinq, and s = six / sept. The l and f that occur are currently unexplained by such a simple code, but the study of more books with the Brölemann price-code should clarify the situation.

Edit, 25 December 2019
The  catalogue description of Library of Congress, MS 5 (formerly Brölemann Catalogue A, no. 139), records that the paper ticket is inscribed "A/139 .hx." (see S. Schutzner, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscript Books in the Library of Congress: A Descriptive Catalog, I (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1989), p. 27). We argued above that the first digit of a two-digit price is likely to be a high number, and thus it seems plausible that the h = huit = 8. Perhaps the undeciphered f = neuf?

Edit, 7 January 2020
Walters Art Museum, MS W.213 has the price code "tcx" (according to Randall, France, 1420-1540, no. 159, p. 287). The valuation in the handwritten "Catalogue A" clearly begins with "3" and ends with "0":
so although the middle number is a bit ambiguous (is it a 5 altered to 0?) this confirms that "t" = "3" (= trois?).

The code-letters "d" and "c" are confirmed as "2" and "5" by Catalogue A no. 48:

Edit, 26 January 2020
Looking through old images, I found one of the pastedown of the manuscript sold at Christie’s, New York, The Collection of Arthur & Charlotte Vershbow, 9 April 2013, lot 3 (col. ills.) [Online version]:

Near the top of the page is an inscription in pencil, that appears to read:
8 miniatures a grandes figures -- ux/ --  hx
7 pages entourés d'ornemans [ ... ]       sx
28 colonns d'ornemens [ ... ]             hq
                                         dtq

The sum resolves if q = quatre = 4, h = huit = 8, s = sept = 7, and x = 0:

 hx    =   80
 sx    =   70

 hq    =   84
dtq    =  234

This suggests that the letter I had previously read as an f is actually a tall s:
"A 141 | usx." (i.e. 170)
"A 149 | sc." (i.e. 75)

I also suspect that the letter I have previously read as an l might instead be a badly formed t:



Thus we now have:
0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9
x  u  d  t  q  c  ?  s  h  n?



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