Medieaval Writing
The Codex (3)
A more detailed codicology produces even more mysterious code.

From Sinclair 1969, p.9, a description of a 14th century psalter in the National Library of Australia, Canberra:

"Vellum, 228 x 148mm., A contemporary vellum +111. Collation:(6)1 (8)2-4 (2)5 (7)6 (8)7-15. Quire 6 lacks its third sheet. Catchwords agree, a few quire signatures, no foliation or pagination."

Don't panic now. It's quite simple. The pages are of vellum and the measurements are given. The flyleaf is also of vellum of the same age. Many books have been rebound and more modern flyleaves or pastedowns are a clue to watch out for other anomalies. There are 111 folios. The collation is an arithmetical code which describes how the gatherings are arranged. There is one gathering of 6 leaves, followed by 3 gatherings of 8 leaves, one of 2 leaves, one of 7 leaves and 9 of eight leaves. The number in brackets refers to the number of leaves in the gathering and the following numbers assign identifying numbers to the gatherings with that number of leaves.

(1 x 6) + (3 x 8) + (1 x 2) + (1 x 7) + (9 x 8) = 111

So that adds up. Don't just believe me, check it on your pocket calculator. The fact that quire 6 lacks its third sheet explains why there is a gathering of 7 leaves and why the total number of folios is odd. When the book is made up as described previously the number of folios should be even. One must have gone missing, or the book assembled in a slightly peculiar way.

The fact that the catchwords agree, that is each catchword is the same as the first word on the next page, indicates that all the gatherings are present and in the right order, even though there are no folio or page numbers to validate this.

So really, there's nothing to it. It's just a simple shorthand code for describing how the book is put together.

  misericord There's no need to be like that about it.  
Of course, nothing is quite as simple as it ought to be. There is another convention for doing the collation, which provides the same basic information.

From Manion and Vines 1984, p.132, a description of a Book of Hours in the National Library of Australia:

"Vellum, 195 x 140. A-B modern paper + 126 + C-D modern paper. I4 ,II2 ,III-IX8, X10, XI-XV8, XVI (wants 5), XVII (wants7). Catchwords agree. Folios 72v and 126v are blank."


So, the manuscript is written on vellum. The size is given. There are two flyleaves of modern paper, so the book has been rebound, 126 folios, and two leaves of modern paper at the end. However, the collation is done the opposite way to the previous example; the Roman numerals represent the numbers of the gatherings while the small Arabic numerals represent the number of leaves in each gathering. There are two folios missing, indicated by their place in the gathering. It all adds up in the same way.

(1 x 4) + (1 x 2) + (7 x 8) + (1 x 10) + (5 x 8) + (1 x 7) + (1 x 7) = 126

There are two pages with nothing written on them, but they are still given their folio numbers.

  corbel Very well, enough mental arithmetic.  
The point of the codicology is that it provides a highly summarised story of how the book was made, and can give some indication of its later history. The antiquarians who collected books from monastic libraries often had them rebound, sometimes with several assorted volumes in together. However, it has also been found that in their original condition books sometimes had strangely disparate contents with apparently unrelated subject matter following directly after each other. The codicology can help unravel how the original thought patterns were laid out in the book.
And why have I given examples from books describing manuscripts in Australian collections, of all places? It just goes to show that, as mentioned elsewhere, medieval manuscripts can be found all over the world.
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Forms of Manuscripts

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