Book Excerpt



New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press and John Neal, Bookseller, (2009). 4to. hardcover, dust jacket. 112 pages. Reprint with minor corrections of second edition. The craft of calligraphy has a 2000-year history in the Western world. Up to the time of the Renaissance, calligraphy was the only means of preserving literature, and so, it played a vital role in the spread of learning, culture, and religion. Historical scripts were not rigidly-fixed "styles;" they represented the... READ MORE

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The basic tools

Early in the Christian era, the preparation and use of membrane (calf or sheep skin) had become common practice in manuscript work. Small parchment fragments found at Dura, however, are thought to date from as early as c.100 bc.Papyrus, a writing material made from the sedge plant which grew abundantly in ancient Egypt, had already been in use in the Eastern Mediterranean from the 4th or 3rd millenium bc. The famous Qumrân Scrolls (some as early as the 3rd century bc) were, like many Hebrew rolls, actually written on membrane prepared in the same manner as leather.

The Arabs learned of paper from the Chinese, as early as the 8th century ad, but it was not manufactured in Italy before c. 1230. Paper was not used extensively for making books until the 15th century. Significantly, only one manuscript in this present collection is written on paper (F10). The development of printing in the mid 15th century stimulated the greater use of paper. Vellum was too expensive for all but the most luxurious printed books.

In general use, the quill probably replaced the rather stiffer reed pen as early as the 6th century ad and, when properly prepared and cut, has proved to be the ideal writing instrument. In medieval times the quill would have been made from the outer wing feathers of a large bird such as a goose or swan. Turkey quills, popular with scribes today, were not used by medieval scribes. Turkeys were native to North America and therefore unknown in Europe before the 16th century.

The use of carbon-based ink stretches from ancient Egyptian times to the 12th century ad. Finely ground charcoal or lamp-black, when mixed with gum water, produced a dense, black pigment. Ink made from iron gall was used as early as the 3rd century ad. This is a more translucent, brown-black ink and can be made by combining oak galls (which contain tannic acid) with copperas (ferrous sulphate). While carbon inks predominated in early medieval times, almost all manuscripts made in the 13th to the 15th centuries were written with iron-gall ink.

The earliest known use of the codex (a manuscript in book form) was in the late 1st or early 2nd century ad. Later, in the 4th and early 5th centuries, much literature previously written on papyrus rolls was transferred to the new codex form, and written on vellum. Since that time, the basic construction of the book has altered very little.