Heading northeast from Nova Scotia, we’ll make our way across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the island of Newfoundland, whose Atlantic coast is the continent’s most easterly point, granted the daily gift of North America’s first sunrise.
As far as I know, there is only one collection in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador housing pre-1600 European manuscripts: Memorial University in St. John’s.
Memorial’s collection is uncommon in several respects. The manuscripts have been catalogued, both in the library OPAC and in two online handlists (here and here), and several have been completely and beautifully digitized (linked from the first handlist). In addition, unlike the collection we looked at last week in Nova Scotia whose manuscripts were acquired by bequest a century ago, Memorial is actively collecting, having acquired nearly all of its early manuscripts in the last decade. In its acquisition, cataloguing, and digitization programmes, Memorial University is impressively on par with larger, more well-known institutions.
Not only is the Library acquiring fine examples from various regions and centuries to form an excellent teaching collection, but several of the manuscripts have esteemed histories, making them fascinating case studies in provenance and North American collection development.
Memorial’s beautiful mid-fifteenth-century Dutch Book of Hours (made in Haarlem for the use of Utrecht) is a great example of a manuscript with an impressive origin and storied history. This codex is full of extraordinary penwork decoration, almost shockingly ornate. The penwork holds many hidden surprises; check out the face hidden in the lower left corner of f. 63v!
The scribe of this professionally-produced manuscript has been localized by Margriet Hülsmann – who has identified several other manuscripts written in this hand – as active in Haarlem, ca. 1455 – 1465 (see “An identifiable Haarlem scribe active c.1455 to c.1465 in the environment of the Master of the Haarlem Bible”, Quaerendo 33, 2003, nos 1 & 2, pp. 119-134, this manuscript described on pp.120, 125-6). Hülsmann also affiliates the decorative stamps on the original leather binding with a Haarlem workshop of the same period.
By the early nineteenth century, the manuscript had crossed the English Channel, where it was bought in Exeter by Devonshire collector Charles Aldenburg Bentinck (1810-1891), who made note of the acquisition on the first flyleaf. In 1943, the manuscript was purchased by famed British collector (and Sussex sheriff and brewer) John Roland Abbey (1894-1969), who affixed his very impressive gilt and embossed bookplate inside the front cover. This was no. 2225 in his collection.
The Abbey library was dispersed by Sotheby’s London in the 1970s. In Part 7 of the sale (1 Dec. 1970), this manuscript was lot 2880. From Sotheby’s, the manuscript went through several hands before making its way to St. John’s (see Schoenberg Database records 26721, 83131, and 185343; the latter is Christie’s London, 23 Nov. 2010, lot 15).
This bible leaf, preserving part of the fourth book of Kings, comes from a thirteenth-century manuscript from Arras known as the Chudleigh Bible, so named for Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, who owned the complete manuscript in the first half of the twentieth century. The volume was sold by Lord Clifford at Sotheby’s on 7 December 1953, lot 51, and appeared there again on 8 July 1970, lot 104. It was broken soon afterwards and the leaves dispersed. Although the Memorial University leaf does not have any historiated initials (such as those in these leaves sold recently at Christie’s), it is clearly identifiable as part of the Chudleigh Bible because of its dimensions (54 lines, two columns, 285 x 190 (185 x 120) mm) and the distinctive decorative red-framed annotations. Stanford University owns a bifolium of the manuscript, and other leaves have been sold by Quaritch (cat.1147, 1991, no 15), Maggs (Cat.1167, 1993, no 2), and Sotheby’s, 6 December 2005, lot 16 and 8 July 2014, lots 13-14.
Another recent acquisition of note is this leaf, from a processional attributed to the nuns of the Royal Dominican Abbey of St-Louis at Poissy: