The Paper Stocks of the Beryn Scribe

By Mosser, Daniel W. | The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

The Paper Stocks of the Beryn Scribe


Mosser, Daniel W., The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History


I have previously argued that the physical evidence provided by paper and the principle of symmetry that governs the distribution of watermarks in medieval manuscripts and incunabula allow us to reconstruct seemingly impossible collations. Paper evidence also allows us to construct a production sequence in the oeuvres of scribes working on multiple paper manuscripts. (1) The confidence with which one can accomplish the dating and sequencing of a scribe's work is increased when "runs" of the same paper are employed and when identical or near-identical dated examples are available. This is premised on two assumptions: that a given mold used for the production of a paper stock had a working life of one to two years; and that a scribe or stationer would not be motivated to hoard materials for any length of time and thus would consume the bulk of a purchase of paper within a fairly short time after its acquisition. "Remnant" paper stocks--single or relatively few sheets of a paper--can be dated far less confidently, as these are probably survivors of an earlier project and might be consumed over a lengthier period of time.

In what follows, I make reference to four primary resources of dated watermarks: the published album of Charles Moise Briquet (shorthand reference=Briquet); the unpublished archive of tracings at the Bibliotheque de Geneve (shorthand reference=Briquet Archive); the print volumes of Gerhard Piccard (cited by volume); and the online database of the Piccard collection (=Piccard Online). It is customary to refer to the published Briquet images by number, with place of use (when known) and date in parentheses. Briquet published the tracings with their accompanying number separately from his discussion of them (including information about papermaker, place of manufacture, place of use, range of dated examples, citation of variants). When reference is made to the Briquet text, the citation will include page numbers.

The present study focuses on the surviving output of a single scribe (who does collaborate, however, in some instances, though probably in a supervisory capacity), the "Beryn Scribe," so-called because his is the hand responsible for the only surviving copy of the Tale of Beryn in Northumberland MS 455. He has been identified at work in ten manuscripts, and it would not be surprising to find still more examples. (2) Of these, six are copied in whole or in part on paper. Oxford, St John's College, MS 57; Cambridge University Library MS Kk.1.3 (10); University of Michigan MS 225; and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Tanner MS 11 share a pool of paper stocks, while the paper portion of Princeton MS 100 (formerly the "Helmingham Manuscript"; Paper, fols. 1-165, 203-215; parchment, fols. 166-202) and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS C.901 are entirely on paper stocks that do not come from that pool. The paper stock with the latest date is found in three of these manuscripts and carries a Dragon/Basilic (3) mark (see figs. 1-2); Briquet dates this stock to 1457 and 1460 and identifies it as of Italian manufacture. (4) Briquet records only two examples of this mark and notes that this paper is "probablement dun battoir piemontais." (5)

Since the Dragon-marked paper in the Beryn Scribe's manuscripts is mixed with runs of other paper dating to the mid-1440s, these paper stocks with the Dragon mark must be earlier than the examples collected and dated by Briquet and probably even earlier than the closest example recorded by Piccard, which dates from 1455. (6) In the St. John's manuscript, the Dragon paper stock occurs only in two booklets, one containing a London chronicle, "ending in 1431/2 (cf. IPMEP 365E)" (7) and one containing the Parliament of Fowls (fols. 138-240). The form of the Dragon watermark in MS Kk.1.3 is rather different (see fig. 3). (8)

The St. John's manuscript contains a paper stock that does not occur in any other Beryn Scribe manuscript. The watermark, which is found only in the Prick of Conscience (fols. …

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