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Medieval and Historical Manuscripts Collection

antiphonary fragment
Detail from Antiphonary fragment,
late 14th/15th cent.

This collection consists of medieval manuscript fragments and a few bound manuscripts. The fragments have been digitized and a descriptive, searchable database has been prepared to accompany the images. The manuscripts were acquired by the UW Libraries during the 20th century, nearly all as gifts from generous donors. More than half are part of the Walter B. Beals Collection, donated to the Library in 1973 by Mrs. Beals after the death of her husband. Others are from the William E. Henry Collection, collected by Mr. Henry during his 1906-1931 tenure as head librarian and Dean of the Library School. Mrs. Irving Colwell and David Wood, head of the Music Library, each added leaves from 15th century Books of Hours.

The Collection

Tens of thousands of medieval books and fragments survive today, thanks to book-collectors through the ages and to the durability of the materials from which the books were made. Our small collection includes pages ("leaves") from books typically found in medieval libraries during the periods known as the High Middle Ages (1000–1300 CE) and Late Middle Ages (1300-1500 CE.) Most of our manuscripts were produced in the great centers of manuscript production in France, Flanders, and Italy. A few others come from Germany, Spain, and England. Some are text-only pages, some filled with music, others with splendid decorations. Many have been ill-used in the intervening centuries, repurposed as bindings or pastedowns for other, newer books. Some show signs of damage: water, bookworms, ink eating through the skin, poor trimming for rebinding, etc.

Because the artifacts in the collection are rare, fragile, and frequently in use for classes, access is restricted and by appointment only. It is our hope that this online collection will serve the needs of most UW students and other researchers around the world, and also provide pleasure to the browsing public. If you have a bona fide need to inspect one or more of the artifacts, please contact Sandra Kroupa, Book Arts & Rare Book Curator, with a description of your project.

About the Database

The information in the database was compiled from acquisition notes and research efforts by students and volunteers over the years. Special credit is due to Jessie Sherwood, who examined and identified the scripts as part of her master's degree in Library and Information Science, and Christine Doerr, who researched the text contents and codicological elements as a volunteer project from 2011-2013. The materials presented in this digital collection were scanned from the originals as TIFF files, manipulated in Adobe PhotoShop to achieve the best and clearest possible digital image and loaded into the Contentdm JPEG2000 software where they were linked with the descriptive metadata.

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