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Re: BOOK_ARTS-L Digest - 11 Jun 1996 to 12 Jun 1996



Hi Michael,
In message "BOOK_ARTS-L Digest - 11 Jun 1996 to 12 Jun 1996",
you write:

>
>I'm trying to track down which animal(s), if known, and approximately how
>many, were used to create the vellum/parchment used for the thirty copies of
>Gutenberg's 42-line bible which weren't printed on paper.  Dard Hunter says
>c. 300 sheep per copy.  Is this as good an estimate and identification as
>any?  Any votes for goats or calves?
>

Speaking as a parchment maker with no knowledge of this particular book:
(and please forgive me if I get some of the terminology wrong)

Without examining a copy directly, I don't think one can come up with any
sort of accurate identification of the species used.  Although the literature
tends to generalize that goat & sheep were used more in the mediteranean region
of Europe and sheep and calf more in the north, this is just a trend.
Goats were not unknown in Germany, so they are a possibility. It may also be
possible that a mixture was used, but for a printing, consistency would have
probably been a concern.

As to the number of skins used, again, the best way to make an assessment would
be to examine each leaf for spine orientation, position of axilla, and other
indications of how the sheets were cut from the hides.  Once this is determined, it
can be used in conjunction with their size to estimate how many
skins would have been required.

Is the format in which the book was printed known? (ie. quarto, octavo)

Using the dimensions of the sheets that had to be cut and their number, ballpark
estimates for each species could be provided for larger books, since slight
variations in the size of the skins within a species
would have little impact on how many sheets
each would yield. For smaller books, sheets/skin becomes much more variable,
and will be affected by the age of the animals, the breeds available in that
time/place, etc.

I don't know if that is very clear, but perhaps a simple example can help.
While travelling in Italy, I was visiting Sienna, and spent a hour or so getting
nose oil all over the glass cases which house the antiphonals in the Piccolomini
library in the Duomo.  Judging from the size of the books, I was having difficulty
figuring out how they could have managed to cut the bifolia in such a way to have
the spines running vertically down the fold (which is considered the prefered
arrangement).  Unfortunately, most of the books are displayed with the flesh sides
up, and the parchments all appeared to have been heavily coated with some sort of
size/gessoe/wash that obscured details.  I don't think any sheep or goat could
have yielded a skin large enough to supply such a bifolium with the spine running
veritically.  A veal (ie. not a calf) perhaps.  Any way you slice it, there could
not be more than one bifolium per skin. Despite the poor lighting, I was
able to discern a few swirls in the grain that seemed to indicate axilla at each
corner of some pages, which indicated that each *leaf* was a full skin. This puzzled
me since it implied that the folia would then have to be guarded prior to sewing.

Later, in another library, I was permitted to handle a similar book.  Once I was
able to turn a leaf it was immediately obvious that each leaf was indeed a full skin.
Where the grain had not been removed by shaving and/or obscured by the wash, it indicated
that the species was probably goat. With that particular book, I need have only counted
the pages at that point.

Perhaps you could provide a bit more context for your question.
I'm often puzzled by how much
emphasis is placed in the literature on species identification, compared to how
little is placed on how the skins were prepared.

Hope this helps, Rick C.


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