Tag Archives: parchment

On Quire Diagrams

I’ve just spent a couple of hours reflecting on my model and methods for producing quire diagrams, trying to work out a way to incorporate a little bit more specific information into them. It seems to me that this could be of use, so I’ve added it here in case it is of interest to anybody. This is very much a work in progress as, as will rapidly be seen, I’m as much throwing out ideas as they arise as proposing a complete system, and this post is ‘more of a question than a comment’, as it were. Any thoughts will of course be greatly appreciated!

There are a lot of different ways in which the collation of a given quire can be represented in a diagram. Some of the varieties are simply aesthetic. The method that I’ve used over the last several years is shown in Figure 1. This represents a regular quire of eight folios formed from four bifolia arrange according to the Rule of Gregory. Technically, this is a diagram of Quire 2 of Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Lat. 9656 – a copy of the Liber Papiensis dating to the third-quarter of the eleventh century – although the collation here is so regular it could have come from many other manuscripts.

ParisLat9656_Q2

Figure 1: Paris, MS Lat. 9656, Quire 2 (fols 9-16)

The diagram is relatively straight forward, I think. It has one box per folio, with the number of the folio given in a large font in the centre at the top of the box and an ‘h’ and ‘f’ in the lower corners to signal which side of the folio is the hair-side of the parchment and which the flesh. (I’ve not yet had the pleasure of working with a laterally split piece of parchment, but imagine that if/when I do I will then use an ‘s’ to show the split side). The series of bracketed lines underneath, of course, represent the spine of the quire and show which folios are connected as bifolia (in this case all), and can also be adapted to show half-sheets and so forth. Figure 2 shows the final quire from the same manuscript (Quire 15), which now comprises three bifolia and a half-sheet, as the final folio has since been lost

ParisLat9656_Q15

Figure 2: Paris, MS Lat. 9656, Quire 15 (fols 109-115)

The ‘blocky’ approach I’ve used may be slightly ungainly, but on the one hand I find it takes less space than employing a series of stacked ‘v’ shapes while conveying the same information, and on the other hand, it is very easy to create using the ubiquitous table tool in word processing software. As an aside, having had some formatting issues when submitting quire diagrams for publication, I tend to use a screen-shot of the diagram rather than the original tabulated form.

My uncritical impression of other quire diagrams that I’ve seen over the years is that including the hair-side and the flesh-side is not the norm, but I’ve found it to be rather useful – especially when a quire turns up that has one or more folios disrupting the overall pattern. I made the decision to include information on the hair-side and flesh-side directly on the quire diagrams at some point during my PhD (2006-2010), and apart from the odd troublesome, well-scraped and heavily abraded folio where it was near impossible to determine which side was which by look or feel, have not regretted it yet!

What I am debating at the moment, is a clear way to incorporate more information about the quire formation, specifically it’s pricking and ruling, into the diagram. The main pieces of information that I want to add are which side of the parchment was the pricking made from for each folio, which side was the ruling made from (assuming it is in hard-point, that is scored into the parchment with the back of a knife or similar tool), and is the ruling grid cut directly or is it the imprint of another grid from within the quire? If a quire has two or more ruling grids cut into it, how might this be simply represented?

Turning attention back to Paris, MS Lat. 9656, the specific information for Quire 2 may be summarised as:

  • All the pricking is made from the verso of the quire, with the same shape for the column of prick-marks throughout. (This means that all folios must have been pricked simultaneously, with the quire closed and laying face down on the table).
  • All folios are ruled from the hair-side of the parchment.
  • The bifolia comprising fols 9:16 and 11:14 are ruled for 42 long-lines in a single column with double vertical bounding lines at the inner and outer edges, and
    • The ruling grid on fols 11:14 is a direct imprint of that on fols 9:16, indicating that the two bifolia were ruled simultaneously with fols 9:16 on top and fols 11:14 underneath.
  • The bifolia comprising fols 10:15 and the centrefold fols 12:13 have a different ruling grid, with 40 long-lines per page, again arranged in a single column with double vertical bounding lines at the inner and outer edges, and
    • The ruling grid on fols 10:15 is a direct imprint of that on fols 12:13, again indicating that they must have been ruled as a stacked pair.

The current plan that I have for representing this additional information is to add two additional lines into the boxes representing the folios. I’ve experimented with a few positioning of these, and found that having the line for the pricking above that for the ‘h’/’f’ and having the line for the ruling information below works rather well. Having both above or below makes the diagram feel crowded and unbalanced. In addition to being an aesthetic point, this also impacts on the diagrams legibility and therefore its overall convenience and ease of use. I’m currently using a dagger symbol ‘†’ to mark which side of the parchment the pricking has been made from – in the case of Paris, MS Lat. 9656 Quire 2, that is from the verso on each folio, so as can be seen in Figure 3, these symbols have been added to the right-hand side of the box, immediately above the ‘h’ or ‘f’ indicator, depending on the folio in question.

ParisLat9656_Q2_expanded

Figure 3: Paris, MS Lat. 9656, Quire 2 (fols 9-16) with pricking and ruling summary

In the case of the ruling information, it does not seem possible to include every piece of information here. I have opted to use arrow symbols, again put in the area of the box reflecting the side of the parchment from which it has been made. As the arrows are directional, it seemed useful to make them point in the direction that the ruling goes as well, although this is repeating information which can already be deduced form their location on the diagram. I am currently using a double arrow to indicate where the ruling was cut directly into the parchment, ◄◄, and a single arrow for if it is an imprint, ◄. To indicate that there are two different ruling grids in play, I have added numbers before the arrows. The same could be done with the pricking if necessary, as may be seen in Figure 4, which uses this system to incorporate the pricking and ruling information of Quire 15.

ParisLat9656_Q15_expanded

Figure 4: Paris, MS Lat. 9656, Quire 15 (fols 109-115) with pricking and ruling summary

Quire 15, as can hopefully be read from this diagram, has been pricked in two sets, the first four folios from their rectos, and the last three from their versos. It would appear then that, unlike Quire 2, this one was pricked open and face down on the table. As afar as I can tell, the ruling was performed on the entire stack simultaneously, with the outer folio (probably originally a bifolium) being the one which was cut, and the others then being imprints. (This is a preliminary observation, however, and it may be that two sets of ruling lines have been cut – I need to return to the archive and double check this at some point…). As all are ruled from the hair-side, the parchment must have been re-arranged after the pricking had been added but before being ruled (so that the hair-side was facing up in all instances). After this, the parchment must have been re-ordered once more to re-introduce the rule of Gregory in the alignment of hair-side of parchment to hair-side and flesh-side to flesh, across each of the quire’s openings.

There are obviously still teething issues with this method for incorporating more information into the quire diagrams. The ruling of the grids by bifolia does not seem to me to be overly apparent, and I wonder if changing the numbering to ‘1a’ and ‘1b’ for the grids would clarify that, so it can be seen that these are two halves of one larger ruling grid, and not simply two iterations of the same half. That would increase the amount of text in the box, however, and I am wary of making the diagrams more crowded than they already are. Likewise, if each separate grid were given its own continuous number throughout a given manuscript, then the box could become very crowded. As such, I think it is more convenient to begin the numbering again for each quire, but that then might be taken to imply that the ruling grid in different quires was literally identical.

I shall keep reflecting on this, and see where it goes.

 

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Hair and Flesh

After giving a lecture on codicology in Stuttgart last month, I got a follow up question sent via the organiser (Dr Anja Thaler) regarding differentiating between the hair-side and flesh side of parchment. Rather than just replying, I thought it would make a good subject for a blog post (especially as the month is almost at an end and I’ve not written one yet). So, without further ado hair and flesh.

Before musing on my own experiences, it may first be useful to outline what I mean by ‘flesh side’ and ‘hair side’. First, though, we need to step back and consider parchment (sometimes called membrane, sometimes vellum if derived from cows or bulls). Parchment is the de-haired skin of an animal (particularly cows, sheep or goats, but hey, go wild), which has been soaked, scraped and most importantly dried under tension. The modern definition that leather is prepared through soaking in tannic acid while parchment is not, do not hold for the medieval period, the defining point is the drying under tension. I digress. Imagine the skin while it is still on the source animal, it has two sides: the side facing out from the animal, which has hairs on it, and the side facing in towards the animal in questions flesh and muscles and bones. Flay that skin in one big piece from the (dead, please!) animal and it still has two sides, the ‘flesh’ side that originally faced inwards and the ‘hair’ side that faced out.

Soaking the skin in water, perhaps with some appropriate plant materials added to make a dilute solution of tannic acid or some quicklime, helps loosen the hairs. Scraping the hair side of the parchment helps remove the loosened hairs. More thorough scraping removes the physical structures of the follicles themselves and helps to thin the parchment. Scraping the other side of the skin is also beneficial, any fat left clinging to the flesh side can be removed. Ideally, after its been stretched and dried (and scraped some more during this process) the skin will end up smooth and thin, without too much distinction between the two sides. The practice of pouncing, that is applying finely powdered chalk to the surface, is not always employed, but when it does it makes for a smoother writing surface and causes the hue of the parchment to become paler and more homogenous. Which can add further complications to the job of identifying which side is which.

 

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This is a manuscript I’ve not yet had the pleasure of looking at in person: Madid, Biblioteca Nacionale MS 413 (I chose it because the images are freely available and hosted by the library on a creative commons license). It’s a tenth- or early eleventh-century century copy of the Lombard laws originally produced in southern Italy, an overview of the manuscript can be found here. The image here shows an opening with the hair side of two facing folios (30v and 31r). The parchment, from the photo at least, seems relatively pale, but look in the right hand margin of the folio on the right, and a clear area of follicle patterning can be seen. Contrast that with the next opening (fols 31v and 32r), and the relative paleness of the flesh side (even in photo) becomes apparent.

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When I first began doing my own manuscript research in the second year of my PhD, I remember sometimes struggling with identifying which side of a folio was the hair side, which the flesh. For every folio where it was instantly apparent, there were others which caused me to scratch my head in confusion. It got easier with time and practice, most things do of course. Knowing that, as a general rule the flesh side tends to be paler and whiter in hue helps, especially when the more starkly coloured hair side has not been pounced, is a useful hint.

During my doctoral research I gathered some useful secondary resources on the subject, and can highly recommend both Robin Reed’s Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers and Christopher Clarkson’s ‘Rediscovering Parchment’ (full bibliographical details at the bottom of this post). The majority of the information in this post (and in my brain on the subject) has been assimilated from these. It’s worth noting some of the distinctive points:

  • Parchment from kid skin tends to be white on the flesh side and grey on the hair side with older goats often having grey-black regions on the hair-side.
  • Parchment from lamb skin tends to be yellow on both sides, while sheep skin tends to have a paler flesh side, and
  • Parchment/vellum from calf skin tends to be creamier in colour, but again with a darker colour on the hair side for mature animals.

 

Reed notes that distinguishing between goat and sheep can be almost impossible (even with living animals, and includes a cute photo to prove it), while Clarkson suggests that goats differ and can often be distinguished from sheep or calf on account of having softer and more flexible texture.

Both also note that older animals tend to have more established networks of veins and arteries, the presence of which can sometimes be seen or felt in the texture of the parchment even if remaining iron in the blood has not reacted with tannic acid to leave a dark stain in the shape of the vein. Which apparently can happen, although I have not yet seen it in person. Similarly, older animals are more likely to have suffered injuries and scar tissue or (vastly) stretched holes from tick bites, etc., can frequently be spotted on the surface.

Sometimes the hair side of the folio would have been so well scraped that details such as follicle patterns and bits of skin colouring are not really apparent on the surface. Sometimes later damage, abrasion and the such like to the flesh side can have darkened it so much it looks like hair side. Sometimes the parchment has been laterally split to make two sheets, one of which has a hair side and an ‘inside’, as it were, the other a flesh side and an ‘inside’. I’ve not seen this in any manuscripts I’ve studied myself, as it is a later practice not yet developed or employed in the tenth to twelfth century law-books that my research focuses on. It’s a detail worth remembering though, especially as Reed comments that many extra thin parchments assumed to have been produced from uterine vellum (that is parchment produced from calf foetuses) has probably actually been produced as a split skin instead.

Needless to say, in my early days in the archives (still less than a decade ago) I frequently confused hair and flesh, or spent what felt like hours pondering a folio, flipping back and forth. Sometimes I’d just put a question and come back to it. (Hands in the air honesty, it still happens sometimes). On more than one occasion I’d spend ages pondering my way through quire, finally decide on some tricky instances and step back to look at a quire diagram – that gave the same face of two halves of a single bifolium hair on one part, flesh on the other. It happens in recording, but clearly not in the manuscript. The bifolium though sometimes provides an easy solution, if one half is tricky to the point of frustration and the other has a nice, diagnostic feature such as a patch of follicles then the information can just be transferred across the quire. Tricks of knowing where else you can (should) look become a part of the working repertoire alongside an ever attuning eye and holes in the memory that let you slowly forget the difficulties you once had.

 

Bibliography

‘Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional 413’, in Biblioteca Legum: A Database on Secular Carolingian Law Texts, ed. by Karl Ubl <http://www.leges.uni-koeln.de/en/mss/ [Accessed 28 July 2016]

Clarkson, Christopher, ‘Rediscovering Parchment: The Nature of the Beast’, in Conservation and Preservation in Small Libraries, ed. by Nicholas Hadgraft and Katherine Swift (Cambridge: Parker Library, 1994), pp. 75-96

Reed, R., Ancient Skins, Parchment and Leathers (London: Academic, 1973)