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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Penmanship before the (ballpoint) pen ...

In recent news stories we read that many consider the teaching of cursive writing to be passé. After all, no one actually writes anymore. Today's discipline leans towards the acquisition of keyboard skills, not pen skills, and children are expected to learn the layout of the keys at an early age.

Title page of Compendio del gran volvme dell'art del bene & leggiadramente scriuere tutte le forti di lettere e caratteri (Venetia: Appresso Aluise Sessa, 1588).

Of course this was not true in earlier ages, when writers and scribes used quills, pens (ballpoint and otherwise), pencils, crayons, lumps of charcoal, etc., for communicating their ideas. Handwriting of some sort has been a vital mode of communication across all societies and cultures since the first use of cuneiform in the third millenium B.C.E. The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library focuses especially on the preservation of written materials, as well as teaching of basic skills to undertake research with these materials.  To that end, the Library has acquired a large collection of books on handwriting over the past few decades, with works in most western European languages, as well as several works on written languages elsewhere in the world.

Tools for handwriting from the Compendio.
 In today's post we find four examples of early books dedicated to the teaching of proper handwriting from the HMML collections.  These books were digitally photographed over the summer of 2011 as part of a larger project to make HMML resources available worldwide through its online image collection, Vivarium (  These books are not yet in Vivarium, but will be soon.

At the same time, HMML is preparing these books for presentation in its online manuscript studies reference library, which will be available at: Check back periodically to see how we are doing.

Note that some of the writing samples were prepared from woodcuts and others from metal plates.  Often those from metal plates became so "flourished" that the text got lost under the flourishes! Later such "facsimiles" were produced with lithography, chromolithography, photography, and now digital photographs. But interest in studying and teaching handwriting (and penmanship) date back at least to the sixteenth century.

 To see any of the images below in large size and to view a slide show of the pictures, click on an image.

The author of the Compendio, Giovanni Battista Palatino.

A sixteenth-century rebus in Italian, from the Compendio.

A close-up of the rebus - the first line starts: "Dove son ..."

Hebrew characters in the Compendio.

Other character sets and alphabets, including Ethiopic.
Title page from Johann Gottfried Weber's Allgemeine Anweisung der neuesten Schönschreibkunst (Duisburg am Rhein, [1780]).

From the Allgemeine Anweisung: "Bemühe dich eine deutliche, gründliche und vollständige Erkenntniss deiner Pflichten zu erlangen." [i.e., Endeavor to achieve a clear, fundamental and complete understanding of your duties. -- of course, first you must be able to read this instruction in order to follow it ...]

How to cut your quill and hold it properly. From the Allgemeine Anweisung.

More elaborate writing examples from the Allgemeine Anweisung.

The Arte de Escribir, by Francisco Javier de Santiago Palomares (Madrid, 1789).

A grid pattern from the Arte de Escribir, demonstrating the proper angle of the letters.

More instructions on posture from the Arte de Escribir.
Court Hand Restored, by Andrew Wright (London: Printed for Benjamin White, 1776).

Examples of English court hands, from Court Hand Restored.

Examples of common written abbreviations from Court Hand Restored.
Examples of "running Courthand," from Court Hand Restored.

Finally, a reading test for those who have studied the previous images.

 Sic transit scriptura!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Comes But Once a Year (but Christmas books hang around)

Those who make books generally do so because they love sharing their books with others.  This is certainly true for printers and publishers who have produced "Christmas books" over the years.  These books are not necessarily books about Santa and reindeer, nor are they do they focus ghosts of Christmasses past, present or future.  No, these Christmas books are special publications made at Christmastime to share with friends and clients of the publishing house.  Thus, these books are usually printed in smaller numbers and most are set aside in advance as gifts, not as commercial products.  As such, they often give us a small taste of what a publishers/printers/designers consider in their work to be the best, most playful, or spiritually meaningful.
Some of the numerous Christmas books designed by Frank Kacmarcik, Obl.S.B., and published by Al Muellerleile at North Central Publishing.

The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library has a large collection of such Christmas books from a Twin Cities (Minnesota) printing house: North Central Publishing, led by Al Muellerleile (1908-1985). Mr. Muellerleile was long a friend of Saint John's University, and a number of the books in our Special Collections were donated by him. Beyond that, however, Al Muellerleile was a good friend of Frank Kacmarcik (1920-2004), a book artist, liturgical artist, graphic designer, and consultant for liturgical spaces.  Together, they produced annual Christmas books from the late 1940's into the early 1980's.  Below are a few examples of the books they produced. 

Click on any image below to see it enlarged.

The Birth of the Lord Jesus Christ (based on Matthew and Luke), with designs by Frank Kacmarcik.

Title page of  A Nativity Sequence (1954).

The Magi bring their gifts to the Christ Child in Frank Kacmarcik's rendition.
Seasons of Hope - an appropriate title at Christmastime.

The colophon of one of the Christmas books, with the NCP monogram (North Central Publishing), listing the artists involved in the project, and specifying the number of copies made and the specific number of this copy.

The North Central Christmas books included more than just retellings of the Nativity.  There were also stories or poems by Vincent Arthur Yzermans, Eugene McCarthy, Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II, Saint Ephrem, and Al Muellerleile, himself!

A title by Pope John Paul II from early in his papacy.

Cover design by Frank Kacmarcik.

In general, North Central Publishing produced 1200 copies of these books, so it is no surprise that not all of them were promptly given away.  When Frank Kacmarcik donated his collections of art, rare books and reference books (the "Arca Artium Collection") to Saint John's University, he included many copies of each of these books.  To learn more about his art collection, look for "Arca Artium" in Vivarium, and for his book collections, look for "Arca Artium" in MnPALS.

Life of Saint Benedict, based on a 16th-century pictorial biography.

Pages from the life of Benedict, showing his early conflicts with monastic communities at Subiaco.

HMML takes care of a great many other Christmas books in the Saint John's Special Collections, but no other series of special Christmas books is so well represented as the North Central books.  These, and all the books in Saint John's Special Collections, are available for viewing on request.  Feel free to contact HMML or the author of this article if you wish to learn more about the Library's collections.

May this Christmas season bring peace and joy to all!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Finding your way home (sort of ...)

On Monday, December 12, 2011, an English class from Saint John's University and the College of Saint Benedict visited the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library to see books and facsimiles relating to the early modern age of explorations, the Caribbean region and the Americas.  Over 20 students and their professor crowded into the small classroom at HMML to hear about preserving manuscripts and rare books, about the history of books, and to see up close items from the research collections. 

Among the items on display were histories of Jamaica and the West Indies from the late 18th century, as well as facsimiles of a 15th-century world map, books by Christopher Columbus, and the 1494 treaty between Spain and Portugal to divide up the New World.  Among the printed books was a large atlas printed in France in the years 1776-1784, the Atlas Universel, as well as a 1537 collection of accounts of explorations of the New World (the Novus Orbis Regionum ac Insularum).  These materials gave the students a chance to see up close the European view of the world in a medieval context, an early modern context and a colonial context.  The Atlas shows a North America in which there is no such thing as the "Midwest," only a region called Louisiana, where primarily rivers and lakes are identified.  Many of the names are familiar to us still today--Lake Michigan or Lake Superior, the Missi-sipi or the Saint Joseph River in southern Michigan and northern Indiana (where I grew up a couple blocks from the river).  It even includes a mark for a place called "Chicagon" at the southern tip of Lake Michigan.

The students had the chance to hear both from a library representative about the research collections at HMML (i.e., from me), as well as from their professor, who could place the items into a context of his own research interests.  Studying the language, literature and culture of England and the United States in a pre-industrial revolution world incorporates many other resources as well.

In addition to the class visit, however, HMML staff is supporting the use of these materials by the class through a Wiki that the Library has set up to include bibliographies, teaching notes, and pictures of materials used--  Who knows what else we might find to put in there?

Here are more samples from the presentation. Click on an image to see it enlarged.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Couple Experiments with "Video"

The staff at HMML (the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library) is always looking at ways to improve access to the Library's manuscripts and books.  Recently I tried my hand at making a couple simple video-slideshows to demonstrate the contents of two of our more interesting manuscripts:  The Kacmarcik Book of Hours and a 14th-century Graduale manuscript (choir book for the Mass).  Here are the results of these preliminary experiments--one lasts less than a minute and the other about two minutes.  Both are silent (I don't know about using music that may be under copyright, so I am avoiding that for now.

HMML has digitally photographed both of these manuscripts in their entirety. The Kacmarcik Book of Hours is already available in our free online image database, Vivarium ( and the Graduale will soon be available there as well.  There is also a fuller description of the Kacmarcik Book of Hours at the HMML Manuscript Studies Wiki:

Let us know what you think!

Happy viewing!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Benedictines and their Books

From a pictorial life of Benedict, based on the
Second Dialogue of Gregory the Great,
printed in 1587. The complete book can
be viewed in Vivarium at:,16772

From the very beginning, Benedict of Nursia was devoted to the life of the Book, that is, the Bible. In fact, when he left Rome about 1500 years ago, it was to head into the hills near Subiaco, Italy, in order to be alone with his Bible.  Were it not for the aid of a local monk, he might have starved there.  As his work progressed, Benedict eventually found himself called to head a community of monks.  His experiences led him to record his "Rule" that provided a framework for monastic communal life.  Thus, Benedict is often depicted holding a copy of his Rule.  In other instances, it is clear that the book that Benedict is holding is the Bible itself.  In fact, the Rule rarely refers directly to books, but it does provide many references to various forms of "reading" and communal prayer--both of which would have required a lot of books.  Below is a small sampling of pictures showing Benedict and/or Benedictines with their books. The sources for these pictures are mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries and are all in the Special Collections at Saint John's University.

Saint Benedict showing his Rule to Saint Placid, Saint Maur, and other followers.  From a 1505 printing of the Rule in Latin, bound with a copy of the Second Dialogue of Gregory and a work by Bernard of Clairvaux. This will soon be added to Vivarium. This volume is about 5 inches tall.

The Rule of Benedict in Latin, from a 1544 edition in the Arca Artium collection. Note the use of the woodcut borders that continue on throughout the volume.  This small item is about 4 1/2 inches tall, or small enough to fit into a shirt pocket.  The opening letter "A" (for Ausculta = "Listen") receives special treatment in a woodcut, as well.

A fragment from the so-called Benedictine Psalter, printed in Mainz in 1459, in the workshop that also produced the Gutenberg Bible a few years earlier.  This large Psalter, commissioned by Benedictines for liturgical use, demonstrates the Order's interest in the new printing technology.  This particular page, with the damage to its edges and discoloration, was printed on parchment instead of paper, and later used in a book binding. From the Arca Artium collection and in Vivarium at:,13541.

 Here are a few followers of Benedict, with their books.


Saint Walpurga of Eichstätt holding her book and hovering over her monastic foundation.  From a life of Saint Walpurga in the Saint John's Rare Books Collection:  Lebensbeschreibung der heiligen Aebtissinn Walburg, by Philipp von Rathsamhausen (Eichstätt, 1792).  Soon to appear in Vivarium.

A good book is awfully hard to put down.  Saint Eulogius from the Imagines sanctorum Ord. S. Benedicti, by Karl Stengel (Augsburg, 1625). Vivarium:,15000

It can be so hard to find a quiet reading place ...  From the Corona lvcida in coelo iam fvlgens, by Karl Stengel (Augsburg, 1621). Soon to be in Vivarium.

If you are going to read books, you might write some as well. Bishop Haimo from Stengel's Imagines sanctorum Ord. S. Benedicti (see above).

These are but a few examples of the Benedictine interest in reading and books. The Special Collections at Saint John's University offer many, many more!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Manuscripts all over ...

The records of our past are hidden all around us, sometimes in plain sight.  Today's posting is on manuscript fragments in the Saint John's Collections, in particular those that have been re-used over time.  There are several examples in our rare printed book collections that have parchment covers that have been recycled from medieval and early modern manuscripts.  Through the centuries libraries have often used materials at hand for their immediate needs. If a book needs a cover and you have an extra manuscript that is no longer needed, then why not simply use the unwanted manuscript? This is especially true for liturgical manuscripts, which often became obsolete as worship services or musical expression evolved. At the time of the Reformation in Sweden in the 16th century, the government decided to recycle all of their old liturgical manuscripts into covers for archival documents.  Another tenuous link to the historical record.

Cover from a copy of M. Tullii Ciceronis Tusculanarum Quaestionum libri quinque (Ingolstadtii: ex typographeo Adami Sartorii, 1606).  This book is part of the 1877 gift from Ottobeuren Abbey to Saint John's.  The fragment includes collects from the feast for Saints Simon and Jude (October 28).

From the same book cover shown above, with the end of the collect for the vigil of All Saints (October 31 or "Halloween") and the beginning of the prayer for the feast of All Saints (November 1).

The cover of Catonis Disticha Moralia ... Augustae Vindelicorum: Michael Manger excudebat, 1588.  Also from the library at the Abbey of Ottobeuren ("Ex bibliotheca Ottenpuriana 1592" on title page).  From an unidentified liturgical manuscript.

The back cover of the Catonis Disticha Moralia ...

Another liturgical manuscript used as a book cover.  This one is on Documenta Rediviva, Monasteriorum Praecipuorum, in Ducatu Wirtenbergico sitorum (Tubingae: Apud Philibertum Brunn, 1636).

Every little scrap gets used.  So much for aesthetics ...

A parchment cover on an uncataloged paper manuscript, probably from Italy.