why foliation is important

I’m not talking about trees and green spaces. This is the bibliographic process of describing a book’s collation, what P. Gaskell called a formula that shows “how the book was—or ideally should have been—constructed” using a special system of notation.1

Today, for reasons I have promptly forgotten, I found myself searching for the collation formula for one of the fight-texts of nominal interest. Leeds, Royal Armouries, MS I 33 (also known as the Tower Fight book, the Walpurgis Manuscript, and most recently, the Luteger Fight-Book) is the earliest illustrated text of instruction in arms and thus holds a special place in the scholarship, such as it is.

One point I wanted to clarify was that foliation, reminded of a recent publication which I have yet to obtain. The first comprehensive edition of the text, by Jeffrey L. Forgeng, says only that the manuscript consists of 32 vellum leaves, bound in a light, nineteenth-century binding.2 At first reading I took that to mean that the entire codex was one gathering of 32 leaves (making 64 pages of content). Now that should have raised a flag, but when first read, perhaps with haste, I thought little of the unspoken conclusion. The problem is, 32 leaves is far too many for a single gathering, particularly in a medieval, vellum, manuscript.

The size of the MS, about 30 x 23 cm, is usually called a quarto format, because a ‘standard’ sheet of paper (or piece of vellum), folded four times, produces 8 leaves of about this size. Quarto formats, abbreviated by the book-nerd as 4to, usually has gatherings of 4-6 bi-folds, or 8-10 leaves.3 That’s what MS I 33 should have. It should not have one gathering of 32.

Since Forgeng does not explain the collation, one has few options to turn to. Ranier Leng’s fantastic (and unaffordable) hand-list does not have foliation for MS I 33.4 Neither does Hans-Peter Hils dissertation, that was the primary source for these details prior to Leng.5 Franck Cinato and André Surprenant, having consulted Philip Abbot from the Leeds museum, supply a foliation in their 2009 book, but it does not follow common collation rules.6

Therefore, because I don’t have anywhere else to put this detail of limited value, I will provide it here for those who happen upon this corner of the internets through the vagaries of search engines.

Since this is a formula for a manuscript text, we can use Roman numerals in place of the Latin collation letters.

4to, [iii] I8, II6, III4, (f. 18 is single inserted leaf), IV6, (f. 26 is single inserted leaf), V6.

We can read this as, quarto format, in 5 gatherings, beginning with three leaves, not contemporaneous with the rest, and thus set off with square brackets. The first gathering is of 8 leaves, the second of 6, the third of 4, with one inserted leaf between the third and fourth gathering which has 6 leaves. Another single leaf separates the fourth gathering from the fifth which has another 6 leaves. Of course, this formula can be re-arranged, as needed, or as taste demands, but it is an accurate description of the collation as it appears in Cinato and Surprenant.

Now, back to some slightly more productive work.

1 Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography, 2nd ed. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1979), 328-335.

2 Jeffrey L. Forgeng, The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship: A Facsimile & Translation of Europe’s Oldest Personal Combat Treatise, Royal Armouries MS. I.33. (Union City, Ca. and Leeds: Chivalry Bookshelf and The Royal Armouries, 2003). This is now out of print, and unlikely to ever appear again. However, Leeds is producing a new version, or versions, of escalating cost, as part of the Jubilee celebrations. The codex has been re-bound, and that may actually alter the foliation, as described here. I would like to point out that the rhetoric about ‘rediscovering’ the manuscript is a little over-dramatic as only one article, published in the 1960s, was under the impression that the thing was lost. Forgeng did make the manuscript somewhat better known to specialists but real credit should go to Bridget Clifford who brought said MS to the attention of just about everyone who wrote about it before 2003. A recent paper by James Hester may have different collation than I have here. It’s behind a pay-wall, and a rolling wall on recent issues. It’s not an easy paper to get.

3 [Long after I wrote this—14 June 2013 to be exact—I noticed I had missed the actual note 3, and even got the definition of quarto wrong. I have sinced fixed it, but I don’t recall what the reference was going to be. Probably it was for the entry on Quarto in Geoffrey Ashall Glaister, Encyclopedia of the Book, (Oak Knoll Press: New Castle, Del, 1996).

4 Rainer Leng, ed. Katalogue Der Deutschsprachigen Illustrierten Handschriften Des Mittelalters: Band 4/2, Lieferung 1/2, 38. Fecht- Und Ringbücher. (Munich: Kommission für Deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters der Bayerischen Akadime der Wissenschaften, München, 2008).

5 Hans-Peter Hils, Meister Johann Liechtenauers Kunst Des Langen Schwertes. Vol. 257. Europanische Hochschulschriften Reihe 3. (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1985).

6 Franck Cinato, and André Surprenant. Le Livre De L’Art Du Combat: Liber De Arte Dimicatoria. Sources d’Histoire Médiévale 39. (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2009), xxxiii.


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