A year or two ago, I discovered that Central St Martins, the London college of art and design [Wikipedia], has a collection of medieval illuminated manuscript leaves and cuttings, including quite a number of interest to me. I'll try to write about some of them on another occasion, but today I will describe one of their three bound codices: a characteristically large late medieval Italian choirbook.
The text appears to be unexceptional, but what initially caught my eye is the presence of a blue-edged paper label in the upper left corner of the inner face of the front board:
The three-part form is absolutely typical of shelfmarks, usually indicating the bookcase, the shelf, and the position on the shelf:
|"A. | I. |14."|
In this case it is characteristic of the shelfmark labels used by Howel Wills (d. 1901), in whose library I have long had an interest. He did not use a bookplate, and usually did not write his name in his books, so the label is usually the only way to recognise that he owned a manuscript. Here is another another example, from a webpage that I made in 2002:
Once one has identified a book as coming from his library, it is usually not difficult to find it described in the catalogue of the auction at which they were sold:
|Sotheby's, 11 July 1894|
In this case, the description of lot 243 is a close match for the the text, number of leaves, decoration, description of the binding, and indication of the size:
There are three main clues to early provenance.
The lower margin of one leaf has what is apparently -- despite its strange placement in the middle of the volume -- a 16th-century ownership inscription:
|"Hic liber est filii de Iacobi Deguntis [or de Guntis?]"|
There is an early shelfmark(?) "U i" (i.e. U 1) at the top of the front flyleaf:
And there is an 18th(?)-century table of contents in Italian, on the verso of the front flyleaf, giving the folio references for the parts of the volume used during Holy Week:
"Messa del Giovedi Santo a carte 121.
Venerdi santo a carte 138.
Per il Sabbato Santo, altro Libro intitolato Libro Primo."Showing a similar concern for Holy Week is this added note:
"Sabbatum sanctum require
in graduli festivo a charte
Returning to the 19th century, the annotated Sotheby's catalogue reveals that the book was bought at the Howel Wills sale in 1894 for £7 10s. by Leighton, doubtless J. & J. Leighton, the London booksellers and binders:
Less than two years later, it was inscribed:
"This books was
presented to the Arts &
Crafts School by
Mr. Ernest Gimson [Wikipedia]
Dec 22 1896"
Presumably as part of the same accessioning process an inventory number "1392" and "London County Council / Technical Education Board" stamp, both printed on paper, were stuck to the centre of the front cover:
Although not a masterpiece of art, the volume is ideally suited to its function as a teaching tool. The binding is original; the sewing is loose enough that the composition of the quires can easily be examined and established; the script and music are large and easily legible; and there is lots of evidence showing how the scribe and decorators worked, such as these guide-letters for the folio numbers, which appear in the outer margin of versos:
|[Click to enlarge]|
|"Fr. v i't." = "F(e)r(ia) V Introit(us)"|