Incunabula Profile picture
Bibliophile. Rare book collector. The history of writing, and of the book, from cave painting to cuneiform tablet to papyrus scroll to medieval codex to Kindle.
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20 Jun
The best box-makers in France (which means imo the best box-makers anywhere) are Atelier Moura in Lyon. They're *extremely* slow, very expensive, and their work is incomparable. This box, for a rare 15th century Druze manuscript, has the Druze star inlaid in multicolored morocco. ImageImageImage
The Druze largely avoid iconography, but use 5 colors ("5 Limits" خمس حدود khams ḥudūd) as a religious symbol: green, red, yellow, blue, and white. Each color represents a metaphysical power called ḥadd, literally "a limit", a distinction that separate humans from animals. 1/ ImageImage
Each ḥadd is color-coded as follows:
Green for ʻAql "the Universal Mind/Intelligence/Nous",
Red for Nafs "the Universal Soul/Anima mundi",
Yellow for Kalima "the Word/Logos",
Blue for Sabiq "the Potentiality/Cause/Precedent", and
White for Tali "the Future/Effect/Immanence". 2/ Image
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19 Jun
Hebrew palaeography help needed!
I'm trying to better localize and date these two leaves from a large Masoretic bible, and would very much appreciate the opinion of some of the Hebrew paleographers here. They have been tentatively dated to the late 11th or early 12th century. 1/
The leaves were recovered from the binding of a 16th century German book. The angular script has been compared with the Aragonese bible codex, once Valmadonna, MS. 2, which is circa 1100 CE, although that hand has a noticeable leftwards slope which is not present here. 2/
Here is the reverse of both leaves (they are in a double sided frame, so the versos are slightly obscured by the mount).
Any help or thoughts from some of the Hebrew manuscripts experts here would be very much appreciated! 3/
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16 Jun
Jakob Jakobsen's "An Etymological Dictionary of the Norn Language in Shetland", published in two vols in 1928 & 1932, still stands as the unrivalled source book of information on the origins & usage of the now extinct Norn language. The work first appeared in Danish in 4 vols. 1/
Dr. Jakob (Jákup) Jakobsen, (1864 - 1918), was a Faroese linguist and scholar of literature. His "Dictionary of the Norn Language in Shetland" was based on Jakobsen's fieldwork in Shetland during 1893-95 and first appeared in Danish in four volumes between 1908 and 1921. 2/
Norn is a North Germanic language once spoken in Orkney & Shetland until the islands were pledged to Scotland by Norway in 1468–69, after which it was gradually replaced by Scots. Norn became extinct in 1850, after the death of Walter Sutherland the last known native speaker. 3/
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16 Jun
1000 trees have been planted in a forest near Oslo, which will supply paper for books to be printed in 100 years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until the year 2114. 1/…
The author, poet, and literary critic Margaret Atwood was the first writer to contribute to the project, in 2014. The British novelist David Mitchell followed as 2015’s author, and the celebrated Icelandic novelist Sjón was Future Library’s contributing author for 2016. 2/
The Future Library is a collaboration between the conceptual artist Katie Paterson and the new Deichmanske Bibliotek in Oslo, where a special wood-lined room has been built to display the manuscripts, unread, for the next 100 years. 3/
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7 Jun
A simply astonishing object: a reliquary tableau with five illuminated miniatures, a papal Agnus Dei wax seal of Pope Sixtus V, and twelve intact saints’ relics (bone and wood fragments) sewn on to the surface with silver and gold thread. 1/
The miniatures are Southern Netherlandish, painted circa 1500-20 and likely cut from a Book of Hours. The tableau itself was assembled in Spain (perhaps Andalusia) in circa 1590. It measures 23.8 x 18 cm overall; the wax seal 4.6 x 3.5 cm; the miniatures circa 7 x 5 cm. 2/
The tableau is made from ink & gilding on parchment (the miniatures), bones & wood (the saints' relics), wax recovered from the previous year's Easter candles (the Agnus Dei seal) and coiled silver & gold wire, blue glass beads & yellow silk on linen, stiffened with size. 3/
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7 Jun
Ιστορικοεθνολογικός Άτλας της Μακεδονίας / Αρχαία και Βυζαντινή εποχή [Historical-Ethnological Atlas of Macedonia / Ancient and Byzantine], Polychromatic Press of J. D. Nerantzis, Leipzig, 1903. 1/
This highly unusual work, a grand artistic and calligraphic celebration of the historical golden age of Greek hegemony in Macedonia, was the product of the eccentric mind of the Russo-Greek historian Iaonnis Petrof [Ivan Petrov] (1849 – 1922). 2/
Petrof showcases the grandeur of the Ancient Greek and Byzantine eras, in the hope that this will be enough to totally overshadow the subsequent history of the region, largely dominated by non-Greek peoples, and so anchor the contemporary Hellenic claim to Macedonia. 3/
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2 Jun
Exactly. Fuck the German government & their pitiful offer.
“The entire process shows that Germany controls everything,” he said. Either Germany is blackmailing Namibia and sees the whole thing as a PR coup, or they see the Namibian government as a puppet."…
All genocides are horrific but there are few that compare to the unequivocal cold-blooded industrial extermination of the Jews in the Shoah. The genocide of the Herero peoples in Namibia is absolutely at the same level, a dress rehearsal in the 1900s for what followed in the 40s.
Germany has offered €1.1bn over 30 years, ie at present value about €500m. The German budget in 2020 was €508 billion. So in return for the deliberate mass murder of 85% of the entire Herero population, Germany has offered to pay one thousandth [0.1%] of one year's spending.
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29 May
Jesuit grave-stones in Peking follow a particular pattern established in the Ming dynasty by that of Matteo Ricci. Their design is unique and exclusively used for Jesuit graves: On the left is the Latin text giving the name, nationality, and summary biographical information... 1/
This includes the number of years at the China mission and the exact date of death, occupation etc. On the right is the same text in Chinese and in the centre the large characters give their Chinese name and rank. 2/
These are tombstones of João Andreas Pereira (Chinese name Xu Maode, 1689-1743) and João Francisco Cardoso (Chinese name Mai Dacheng, 1677-1723, Vice-President), Jesuit missionaries who both worked at the Imperial Board of Astronomy in Peking. 3/
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28 May
Germany, one of the richest countries in the world, agrees, after years of negotiation, to pay €1.1 bn over 30 years to Namibia - a shameful pittance in this context - for the cold-blooded state-approved murder of well over 100 000 Herero & Nama victims.…
The horror of this genocide is not well understood outside Namibia. I've spent a lot of time there; I've seen the postcards sent by German troops to their wives back home, with photos of dozens of dead Hereros - incl. children - lain out on the ground, or hanging from gallows. 1/
This was an officially sanctioned cold-blooded attempt to exterminate an entire people, a direct forerunner of the Holocaust. There's no atonement possible for wickedness on this scale, but what has finally been dragged out of the German government is shamefully inadequate. 2/
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21 May
Incredibly, this archeologist apparently employed by the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, has now doubled down when told the manuscript was a worthless fake, and insisted they have determined it's genuine. This is an embarrassment, and a terrible indictment of their so-called experts.
Quite apart from all the other screaming clues - the 20th century Star of David, the ridiculous gold, the bizarre iconography never found in any genuine Hebrew manuscript - even a child with kindergarten-level Hebrew reading ability would see the text is just random gibberish.
These "ancient Hebrew manuscripts with gold writing" fakes are made in their hundreds in Turkey, and sold to gullible wealthy Turkish businessmen, usually with the cover story that they were looted from synagogues or the homes of "rich Jews who hide their secret gold" in Syria.
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19 May
The oldest surviving objects with proto-writing - the very earliest 'books' - may by the enigmatic Aboriginal 'cylcons' of Western New South Wales. The oldest cylcons - rock cylinders with scratched markings - found in dated archaeological contexts are about 20 000 years old. 1/
Older than churingas, cylcons date from the earliest period of Aboriginal occupation, some may potentially be 40000 - 50000 years old. The use and purpose of cylcons is unknown to current Aboriginal peoples, and they do not regard them as sacred objects as they do churingas. 2/
Among the suggestions made is that they're tally sticks - for counting people or animals; or maps - showing various routes, rivers in the wet and dry seasons etc; or calenders – counting days, or lunar cycles; or memorials for the dead; or ritual pointers for shamanistic use. 3/
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11 May
"Cut off from the world by military clashes, the fate of the Abba Garima monastery and its spectacular Garima Gospels is still unknown. But the area around the monastery is controlled by soldiers who have looted systematically since the start of the war."…
The Garima Gospels are a two volume Ethiopian Gospel Book dating to the 5th century. Garima 2, the earlier of the two, is believed to be the earliest surviving complete illuminated Christian manuscript - an incomparably important heritage for Ethiopia, Africa and all humanity.
The abbott and a monk at the Abba Garima Monastery near Adwa examining the Garima Gospels, thought to be the oldest surviving illuminated Christian manuscript. Local tradition holds that this codex was written before the year 500, a date supported by recent radiocarbon analysis.
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8 May
Bonaventura Vulcanius’ De literis et lingua getarum, sive gothorum [On the Alphabet & Language of the Getae or Goths], published in Leiden in 1597, contains texts & wordlists in Gothic, Crimean Gothic, Anglo-Saxon, Frisian, Persian, Welsh, Icelandic, Basque, Romani & Rotwelsch. ImageImage
In this pioneering work of comparative linguistics, Vulcanius attempted to define the relationship between the Gothic language and High German, Crimean Gothic (after Busbecq's vocabulary, first published eight years previously in 1589), Anglo-Saxon and Frisian. Image
At the same time, he also considered the Persian, Welsh, Icelandic and Basque languages. When the book went to press, what would otherwise have been blank space at the end of the last gathering was filled with a Romani and a Rotwelsch wordlist. ImageImageImage
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7 May
Kōetsu Utaibon 光悦謡本 [Saga, Kyoto, 1607].
The 100 Noh libretti called "Koetsu-bon" represent an astonishing leap, something unprecedented in the history of the illustrated or decorated book: this was the first time a book had been conceived as a single unified work of art. 1/
Not until William Blake’s books two centuries later, do we encounter anything like this as a "Gesamtkunstwerk" in the West, and the creation on any sort of scale of books composed as integrated, decorated printed works of art.... 2/
.... did not arrive in the West until the private presses of the late 19th century Arts & Crafts movement in Britain, and the French livres d’artistes produced in Belle Epoque Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 3/
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3 May
One of the smallest extant medieval Psalters, measuring just 50mm x 37mm.

This miniature Ferial Psalter, written around 1280, shows however that the interest and complexity of a manuscript has nothing to do with its size... 1/12
Representing the end-stage of a miniaturization fad that had been accelerating from the mid-twelfth-century, this manuscript - and others like it - could only have been possible after the introduction of the lens.... 2/12
The Psalter is profusely ornamented, with a range of decoration including ten multi-line, sometimes page-size, puzzle initials in red and blue, with frogspawn penwork and red and blue extensions forming three- and four-sided borders, some with “firework” designs... 3/12
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1 May
"The Jewish Magna Carta"

The 'Statute of Kalisz' was the first major manuscript project of the artist Arthur Szyk. It celebrates the General Charter of Jewish Liberties, which granted civil and religious rights to Polish Jews when issued in 1264 by Duke Bolesław in Kalisz. 1/4 ImageImageImage
Printed in Paris in 1932, this is a visually stunning production. The integration of text and image is vastly better handled than in Szyk's more widely known Haggadah, and the reproduction of Szyk's artwork is outstanding: crisp, vivid, colorful, impactful. 2/4 ImageImage
The full 500 copies planned of the Statute of Kalisz were never printed, and a large part of the actual printed run was destroyed in the German bombing of Warsaw. Szyk himself stated that only 50 copies existed, and some sources place the number as low as twenty or thirty. 3/4 ImageImage
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27 Apr
This is an untouched box of the legendary Hagoromo Fulltouch chalk, made in Japan circa 2014. The company closed down in 2015, and while a version of the chalk is now made in Korea, purists mourn the loss of the unsurpassable original - the finest blackboard chalk ever made. 1/
Mathematicians in particular revered Hagoromo for its unequalled legibility, usability and durability. Here, by @jeremyjkun, is a teary goodbye to Hagoromo. 2/
"I tried it. It was love at first sight. I couldn't believe such a thing existed," says math professor Satyan Devadoss. Since then, he's been a Hagoromo Fulltouch chalk convert." 3/…
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25 Apr
In the 90 years since its discovery the unique text of this papyrus (known as P. Michael.4), has defied simple identification. Known as the "Inundation" papyrus, it may be a fragment of an Ancient Greek novel. It describes the annual flooding of the Nile in poetic language. 1/5
"... An area thirty stades in circumference it embraces with Egyptian soil and weaves together with a piling up of black mud. Now this area is a promontory with Poseidon and Nile on either side. It seems to me that around this area human nourishment came into being...." 2/5
Merkelbach in 1958 identified it as a previously unrecorded section of the geographies of Hecataeus of Miletus (c. 550 - c. 476 BC.), the first recorded Greek geographer. 3/5
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23 Apr
Today is #StGeorgesDay. St George is one of the most important of all saints in the Ethiopian Church, revered for his martyrdom, and especially for his survival through repeated tortures - he was, above all, one tough 'ol boy.... 1/ #hardtokill
As we progress through this Ge'ez codex of the Life & Miracles of St George, despite multiple impalings, hangings, beatings, roastings and stabbings, St George remains still only mostly dead. And as "The Princess Bride" taught us, mostly dead is still slightly alive.... 2/
Sadly though, in the end actual decapitation was too much to bounce back from, even for St George.... 3/
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18 Apr
This is potentially a cultural tragedy happening as we watch in horror - I know this library quite well - if it has indeed been destroyed, the losses are incalculable, from incunables to priceless Africana.
This is the main Cape Town afternoon newspaper. Their ongoing coverage is here:…
As a young man, I spent many happy hours in the Jagger library. Aside from priceless early materials, this is one of the great repositories for archives & documents of anti-colonial and liberation movements in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. This is irreplaceable material. Image
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14 Apr
The Tripiṭaka Koreana or Palman Daejanggyeong ("Eighty-Thousand Tripiṭaka") is a Korean collection of the Tripiṭaka (Buddhist scriptures), carved onto 81,258 wooden printing blocks in the 13th century. 1/
It is the world's most comprehensive and oldest intact version of Buddhist canon in Hanja script, with no known errors or errata in the 52,330,152 characters which are organized in over 1496 titles and 6568 volumes. 2/
Each wood block measures 24 centimeters in height and 70 centimeters in length. The thickness of the blocks ranges from 2.6 to 4 centimeters and each weighs about three to four kilograms. 3/
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