Rare Book School

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Rare Book School
Preliminary Reading List

Western Manuscripts & Documents, 1500-2000

Nicolas Barker


Preliminary Advices

Please read the following books, which provide background for the topics that we will explore in class.


Barker, Nicolas, ed. A potencie of life: books in society. London: The British Library, 2001 (reprinted by Oak Knoll Books in 2001).

Brown, Michelle P. A guide to western historical scripts from antiquity to 1600. London: The British Library, 1990. The natural starting point for the beginning student of paleography, providing the clearest and best-illustrated introduction and guide to the history and reading of Latin and vernacular scripts from late Antiquity to the c16. Numerous plates with helpful commentary and transcription, a useful introduction to the most common abbreviations encountered, glossary of terms and dating conventions, and bibliography.

Gray, Nicolete. A history of lettering: creative experiment and letter identity. Boston: David R. Godine, 1986. A densely-written, heavily-illustrated history of mainstream letterforms and the influences that cause them to change and adapt. Not for beginners, but one of the most detailed recent accounts of its subject in English.

Jessen, Peter, ed. Masterpieces of calligraphy: 261 examples, 1500-1800. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1981. This Dover edition reprints a 1936 English translation of a 1923 German original. The introduction provides a useful brief overview of European writing manuals and their methods of production. The reproductions are arranged by script families, with an alphabetical index.

Petti, Anthony G. English literary hands from Chaucer to Dryden. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977. Analysis of script from c15 to c17. Numerous plates with transcription. NOTE: Unfortunately, this book is out of print and difficult to buy.

Preston, Jean. English handwriting, 1400-1650: an introductory manual. Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1992. A practical handbook for reading the variety of cursive scripts employed in the later Middle Ages in England (Anglicana, secretary, italic). Provides a very useful digest of variant letterforms used within these scripts. Many plates with detailed commentary and transcription.

Whalley, Joyce Irene. The pen's excellencie: a pictorial history of Western calligraphy. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co: A Pentalic Book, 1982. An exhibition catalog that has so many illustrations that it functions nicely as an anthology of letterforms; hence its place here.