I know I promised you a virtual tour of medieval manuscripts in Arizona this week, but I want to instead tell you about an actual road trip I took yesterday to Connecticut College in New London, where my daughter is a sophomore.
On a bright winter’s day, the idyllic New England campus of Connecticut College should look like this: All I found was fog and rain, but my visit to the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives was well worth the effort.
In his 1935 Census, Seymour de Ricci reported that Connecticut College owned four medieval mauscripts: a liturgical book he titled “Officia propria sanctorum” (MS 34283, Census 176:1); two Books of Hours (MS 34290 and MS 34294, Census 176:2 and 177:3) and a Hymnal (MS 34296, Census 177:4). Unfortunately, the second and third manuscripts were stolen in the 1950s and haven’t been seen since. The fourth manuscript, thought for years to have been lost as well, was found by curator Ben Panciera in 2011 in an unmarked storage box in the library stacks. You can read about the fortuitous recovery of the manuscript here (my thanks to Ben for permission to post these images).
The other two missing manuscripts have never been recovered. The good news is that both had been described by de Ricci and partially photographed by the Frick Museum’s Art Reference Library before they disappeared. There appears to be no trace of these manuscripts in the Schoenberg Database, which implies that they are still in private hands or have been broken up for resale. But I am posting a small selection of photographs here, hoping that the manuscripts may be identified and recovered someday:
MS 34290 is a lovely mid-fifteenth-century 65-folio Book of Hours written in Normandy, possibly for the Use of Coutances. It is illustrated with ten miniatures, measures 15 x 11 cm and was bound in “old wooden boards and later blue velvet.”
MS 34294 has an esteemed provenance, having been part of the great Trivulzio library in Milan that was sold at auction in 1885. It is a Book of Hours written around the year 1530 with at least 34 miniatures on its 88 leaves. It measures 14 x 10 cm and was bound in the “orig[inal] binding, wooden boards and smooth dark-brown calf, with the double-headed crowned eagle [the siglum of the Holy Roman Emperor, at the time Charles V] on each side; metal ornaments.” The manuscript includes a donation inscription dated 31 December 1581 (from one Mademoiselle de Coisne to her niece “De La Carnoie”) and may have the dealer’s label of George Leavitt (who sold it on 12 November 1886, no. 27) inside the front cover.
Each of these probably had a Connecticut College bookplate as well. Be on the lookout for these little wanderers. They’re out there somewhere.
But enough about manuscripts lost. Let’s talk about manuscripts found. Like many collections, Conn. College also has a box of miscellaneous fragments that turns out to be a real treasure trove. If you’ve been following me around the country for these last few months, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that among the leaves at Conn. College are six that I have positively identified as having been sliced out of their bindings, matted and sold by Otto Ege.
Five come from a lesser-known portfolio of manuscript and printed leaves titled “Original Leaves from Famous Books, Nine Centuries, 1122 A.D. – 1923 A.D.” (FBNC), still housed in their original Ege mattes with his letterpress label (see S. Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts, p. 102 and Handlist 53, 54, 51, 55 and 40):
FBNC 1 (an Arabic Koran); FBNC 2 (the Bible); FBNC 3 (Aristotle, Ethics, on paper); FBNC 5 (a Book of Hours); and FBNC 6 (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences, also used as “Fifty Original Leaves” no. 40).
The sixth leaf (a mid-fifteenth-century German missal) was number 33 in the “Fifty Original Leaves” portfolio that we’ve encountered several times already (Gwara, Handlist 33).
There are two morals to this story: 1) catalogue and image your manuscripts so that you have a permanent descriptive and visual record in case they are ever lost or stolen; and 2) always open that box of miscellaneous fragments, because you never know when you might find some old friends inside.