Physical Description:

The manuscript looks unremarkable from the outside. It is bound in limp vellum, hair-side out, creating a yellowed-brown hue to the cover which formerly had two alum tawed cords attached at the fore-edge of the front and back covers. During its use, the book was reversed a number of times, whether by accident or design. The front and back covers would have been identical when the book was newly made. At some point a writer numbered pages 5r-90r (1-171) which establishes which side is the front for the bulk of the writing.[1]

Front Cover

Front Cover

The front cover has a burn hole at the bottom center, which obscures some upside down writing, “MORT.” There are other writings on the front cover, also appearing upside down which may give more information about the purpose of the book. Further testing with a UV light may reveal more of the writing. Near the fore-edge is the word “for” and near the center is “B. B—–,” which may be a name. Much of the faded writing appears to be pen-testing, along with indentations created when someone wrote on a separate piece of paper using the book as a support in a contemporary hand, demonstrating that this book was heavily used and possibly abused by the owner(s).

Back Cover

Back Cover

The back cover shows signs of shelf or desk wear, where the vellum was regularly slid over a rough surface. There are inked punctures in the vellum, perhaps from an inked nib being tapped or jabbed into the notebook. The back cover also contains pen testings and faded words or names. The damage at the top has contemporary writing in it, indicating that the damage occurred early in the life of this book and that the manuscript was so little thought of that doodling in the holes was an acceptable thing to do. To the right of the holes at the top of the back cover is writing which matches in hand and ink to the “Mort” from the front cover near the burn hole.

Both front and back covers appear to have mildew stains and some water damage to their bottom edges. This damage, fortunately, does not extend to the paper. This suggests humidity as opposed to liquid water damage. Also fortunate is the width of the turn-ins on the limp vellum binding as they have covered the holes created from the outside of the book and protected the paper and writing within. Inside the front cover, on the top turn-in a hole appears to have been patched early in the book’s life.


Inside front cover


Detail of damage to paper inside front cover by sharp edges of leather cover.

The binding is attached to the text block using a lace-cased multi-section stitch over three alum tawed cords and a vellum or parchment hinge all of which are visible inside the front and back covers. The spine of the binding is damaged in the center front, allowing the stitching to be visible. It appears that glue may have been used in the manufacture of the book as well. Evidence of this is visible over the stitching and between the quires where it seeped through and stained the paper, making it brittle. There are no pastedowns between the text block and the covers, which has caused some damage to the first page of the book. The vellum has become sharp at the edges of the fold-ins and cut into the paper, which has been repaired in modern times by a conservator using rice paper (Miller).

cropped-spinel.jpgcropped-quiresl.jpgcropped-paperedgel.jpg The writing support is laid paper, folio sized with a multi-quire text format. The collation is as follows: 110, 29, 38, 48, 511, 68, 710, 89, 98, 1010. Quire two, leaf eight is tipped to leaf seven; quire four is missing leaves four and five; quire five has leaf eleven tipped to leaf ten; quire seven has leaves one and ten tipped to leaves two and  nine respectively; and quire eight is missing leaves one and six. In quire nine, the first leaf broke off, and was later repaired by tipping it to the tenth leaf of quire eight. The missing and tipped in pages were completed before the book was written in, as the page numbers and content are consecutive and uninterrupted.[2]

Collation Diagram for UIowa MMs



The paper used contains a watermark in the shape of a single-handled pot, with a crown, flower and crescent on top.The watermark includes the letters “RO” or “RQ” on the front center with a comma shape above. I have been unable to find an exact match, but similar watermarks of the period were commonly used near Flanders. The paper itself is browned with age, showing flecks of wood or other dark fibers throughout, it is of a consistent texture with obvious chain lines throughout. The ink used is likely an iron gall recipe, creating a black color, but with very low acid as there is no evidence of the ink burning the paper (Miller). The ink soaks through the paper more in some areas of the manuscript than others. Differences between batches of ink could explain this, although it may also be the fault of the writer. The only color used was black, however, to create contrast, the writer embolden some words and phrases by using more ink.

ff 25v 26r

ff 25v-26r: The ink blots between documents suggests that the book was created before the documents were written, as opposed to having a stack of finished documents compiled into a book.

The book was clearly assembled before use. There are many instances in which ink from one page has been blotted by a different folia from a different quire. As an example, 25v shows ink blots from 26r. The edges of the text block were untrimmed and painted red. Evidence of red splatters are inside the front and back covers and there is a red thumb or finger print on page 2r. This may have been for decoration only, to protect the paper or perhaps as an organizational tool to color code various notebooks for easy reference.

Language & Scripts

The manuscript is primarily in English with some Latin sections throughout. English of the time was not standardizes and the manuscript contains frequent variations for single words.There are multiple hands in the book, but possibly not as many writers: one writer, Raphe Bagnall, signed his name three times on page 93r in three different scripts. He may have done this to demonstrate his ability to write in the various legal hands used at the time, or perhaps it was only for practice. The only other signed author, Johes Abbott, completed a single page (3r, appearing upside-down) in 1644 in Latin. His handwriting appears nowhere else in the manuscript.

Most of the entries are written in a script that includes elements of both secretarie and italic hands, often varying in greater resemblance to one or the other. This reflects changes in fashion during the time period. In the middle of the seventeenth century. Elizabethan court hand (which resembles secretarie hand) was being replaced by the italic favored by humanists (Wolpe).

ff 93r Raphe Bagnall's signatures and example of "Set Hand of Common Pleas", in Latin.

ff 93r Raphe Bagnall’s signatures and example of “Set Hand of Common Pleas”, in Latin.

One script, in particular, The Set Hand in the Common Pleas, is visible in Latin marginalia on 2r and 93r. It is signed by Raphe Bagnall, making it clear that Raphe was well educated and had experience in the court of Common Pleas, which is a court of King’s Bench (Wolpe) (Brooks). The Common Pleas script is perfectly executed with no pen testing, making it clear that Raphe was showing off his ability to write in the script and in Latin. Raphe Bagnall signed his name in each of the most common scripts that appear in the manuscript (especially the primary mixture of secretarie and italic), which suggests that Raphe may have been the main author of the book. Finally, letter Textura is used throughout for headings and place markers.

ff 24r Example of Letter Textura used for headings and place marker

[1] It would appear that one writer began using the book up-side-down (considering how we open books in the west), then changed their mind or another writer took up the book and went to the opposite end of the book and wrote it in up-side-down again, perhaps by accident (as the upside down writing opposite Abbott’s entry ends abruptly). Then decided to start the numbers directly after Johes Abbott’s entry and number the pages until hitting the previous upside-down portion again. Therefore, the writing that appears right-side up to the reader is sandwiched between upside-down writing from different writers.

[2] Please see Transcription for a list of dates.

Brooks, C.W. Pettyfoggers and Vipers of the Commonwealth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Print.

Miller, Julia. Books Will Speak Plain. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The Legacy Press, 2010.

Wolpe, Berthold, ed. A Newe Booke of Copies 1574. London : Oxford University Press, 1962.


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