Tag Archives: Otto Ege

Manuscript Road Trip: Lost and Found at Connecticut College

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

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: Conn WinterAll I found was fog and rain, but my visit to the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives was well worth the effort. working map


Connecticut College, Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, MS 34296 (Census 177:4)

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:

Formerly Conn. College MS 34290, f. 35 (Census 176:2)

Formerly Conn. College MS 34290, f. 35 (Census 176:2)

CC 34290 f. 48v

Formerly Conn. College MS 34290, f. 48v (Census 176:2)

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.”

Formerly Conn. College MS 34294, f. 34v/35 (Census 177:3)

Formerly Conn. College MS 34294, f. 34v/35 (Census 177:3)

Formerly Conn. College MS 34294, f. 58v/59 (Census 177:3)

Formerly Conn. College MS 34294, f. 58v/59 (Census 177:3)

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.

Ege's "Famous Books: Nine Centuries" letterpress label

Ege’s “Famous Books: Nine Centuries” letterpress label

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):

Conn. College, Lear Center, FBNC 1

Conn. College, Lear Center, FBNC 1

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).

Conn. College, Lear Center, FBNC 6 (also "Fifty Original Leaves" no. 40)

Conn. College, Lear Center, FBNC 6

Conn. College, Lear Center, FOL 33

Conn. College, Lear Center, FOL 33

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.

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Manuscript Road Trip: In Otto Ege’s Footsteps

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

Ohio is one of the areas of the country richest in medieval manuscripts, with more than 2200 codices and 2400 leaves in at least thirty-three collections. In fact, once you leave the East coast, Ohio has the largest number of medieval manuscripts per person and per square mile in the United States. If you only count manuscript leaves, Ohio does even better, beating the East Coast states of New York and New Jersey in the per-square-mile calculation. These manuscripts are scattered in thirty-three collections (at last count) across nineteen different cities and towns, in public libraries, museums, seminaries and universities. working mapThe sheer diversity is noteworthy, as Ohio ranks fourth (tying Massachusetts) in the number of collections with pre-1600 manuscript holdings.

In the first few weeks of this Manuscript Road Trip, I’ve focused on particular collections or manuscripts in each state. But because Ohio is such a standout, I have set up a self-guided Ohio Manuscript Roadtrip to all of the collections of which I am aware. Click on the map below to get started (or just click here). Happy hunting! Particularly noteworthy are the holdings of Oberlin College, which have been completely digitized and are accessible through Digital Scriptorium. One of the Oberlin codices, known as The Artz Hours, has been fully digitized here. The holdings at the Cleveland Museum of Art have also been digitized, and there are some stunning examples of manuscript illumination to be found there.


That Ohio is such a rich area for the study of medieval manuscripts can be partially explained by the number of institutions of higher learning in the state. If you’ve been following my blog for the last few weeks, however, you can probably guess why Ohio is so full of manuscript leaves: it’s all because of Otto F. Ege.

I won’t retread ground that’s been marched over already, but here’s the short version. Otto Ege was a professor and bookdealer who made a lot of money breaking apart manuscripts and early printed books in the 1930s and 1940s, selling them leaf by leaf at a massive profit. He wasn’t the first to do this; dealers figured out a long time ago that economies of scale worked in their favor if they sold 250 leaves to 250 buyers instead of one manuscript to one buyer. Ege assembled sets of leaves, with one leaf from one manuscript, one leaf from another, one leaf from a third, and so on, creating what were essentially decks of manuscript leaves that he sold in custom mattes and boxes. The fifth leaf in one box, for example, would have come from the same manuscript as the fifth leaf in another. Several of the Ege sets in Ohio have been digitized: Case WesternCincinnati Public LibraryCleveland Public LibraryDenison UniversityKent State UniversityLima Public Library; and Ohio State University. Fred Porcheddu’s site at Denison University is a great introduction to Otto Ege and his impact on manuscript collections in the Ohio River Valley, focusing on the most well-known boxed set titled “Fifty Original Leaves of Medieval Manuscripts.” Scott Gwara’s forthcoming study will provide more details about the economics of Ege’s bookbreaking as well as a comprehensive list of manuscripts that passed through his hands.


Otto F. Ege, “I am a Biblioclast,” Avocations vol. I (March, 1938), pp. 516-18. The far-right manuscript in the header image is the twelfth-century Italian lectionary that was destined to become Leaf 3 in the “Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts” set. The manuscript is open to the page that now belongs to the Cleveland Public Library (http://ege.denison.edu/cleveland_leaf_03.php).

Ege defended his “biblioclasm” with what he considered the noble goal of putting a little bit of the Middle Ages within the economic grasp of even the humblest collector or smallest institution. In a 1938 article in the “hobbyist” journal Avocations, Ege explained: “Book-tearers have been cursed and condemned, but have they ever been praised or justified?  I present for your consideration:

  1. Never to take apart a ‘museum piece’ book or a unique copy if it is complete.
  2. To search for and make available to schools, libraries, collections, and individuals single leaves or units of mediaeval manuscripts, incunabula works, and fine presses.
  3. To circulate leaf exhibits, supplemented with outlines, lectures, and slides, to organizations so as to engender an interest in fine books, past and present.
  4. To encourage and inspire by these fragments the amateur calligrapher and private press devotee not to imitate the deeds of the masters of the book, but to think as they did to meet present day problems.
  5. To build up a personal collection of books and important fragments to illustrate the History of the Book from the days of Egyptian papyrus and Babylonian clay tablets to the work of Updike and Rogers.

“…Surely to allow a thousand people ‘to have and to hold’ an original manuscript leaf, and to get the thrill and understanding that comes only from actual and frequent contact with these art heritages, is justification enough for the scattering of fragments.  Few, indeed, can hope to own a complete manuscript book; hundreds, however, may own a leaf.” Ege’s strategy, however misguided, was effective – the proof is in the massive number of leaves in the region owned by small collections – but at the same time this slaughter has dealt our patrimony a great blow. My favorite Ege manuscript, the Beauvais Missal, will serve as an example of just great a loss is incurred when a manuscript is dismembered and its leaves scattered.

Beauvais Missal leaf from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Beauvais Missal leaf, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (acc. 1992.238)

The Beauvais Missal is among the most well-known of the Ege manuscripts. It is a beauty, its numerous gilt initials with graceful, colorful tendrils extending into the margins easily recognizable. In the Ege set titled “Fifty Original Leaves of Medieval Manuscripts,” folios of the Beauvais Missal are Number 15, but many “orphan” leaves have been identified as well. At least 40 leaves are known to survive in scattered collections. I know of six within an hour’s drive of my office in Cambridge, Mass.; at least a dozen survive in Ohio alone. The manuscript has yet to be digitally reconstructed, a project that is definitely worth undertaking.

The Beauvais Missal was written in or near Beauvais, France around 1285 and was used early on at the cathedral there. We know this because of an inscription on a lost leaf, transcribed in a 1926 Sotheby’s auction catalogue. The catalogue records that the blank recto of the first leaf of the calendar included a fourteenth-century inscription according to which one Canon Robert de Hangest left the Missal to the cathedral of Beauvais upon his death on 3 November, year unspecified. Nothing further of Robert de Hangest is known, and nothing certain is known of the missal until it surfaced, still intact, in a 1926 auction at Sotheby’s London  (4 May 1926, lot 161). The manuscript had been part of the collection of Henri Auguste Brölemann, a commercial broker in Lyons in the early nineteenth century. It is thought that he  purchased the manuscript in Lyons in 1834; after his death, the manuscript passed to his great-granddaughter and heiress, Madame Etienne Mallet. It was purchased at the Sotheby’s auction by a dealer named Permain and eventually made its way to Ege. As the manuscript is not listed as part of Ege’s collection in the de Ricci Census, it was probably acquired after 1935. It is worth noting that the entire manuscript sold at auction in 1926 for £970; today, a single leaf of the Beauvais Missal can easily fetch several times that amount.

Various Beauvais Missal leaves from various collections; note the varying image quality, a definite barrier to inter-institutional collaboration.

Digital images of seven Beauvais Missal leaves from seven different collections; note the varying image quality and lack of color consistency, definite barriers to inter-institutional digital collaboration.

In its complete state, the manuscript had 309 leaves, thirty-five large gilt decorative initials, numerous smaller initials, and four historiated initials. Two of the four historiated leaves are in Ohio: one at Oberlin’s Allen Memorial Art Museum and the other at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Beauvais Missal leaf at the Cleveland Museum of Art (acc. 1982.141)

Beauvais Missal leaf, Cleveland Museum of Art (acc. 1982.141)

Unfortunately, in the process of dismemberment the leaf that preserved the early donation inscription from Hangest to Beauvais was lost, along with most of the liturgical calendar and many other leaves. If the inscription – a critical piece of evidence for the manuscript’s early history – had not been transcribed in the 1926 Sotheby’s catalogue, we would not even know it had existed. Important information regarding the manuscript’s origins could have been gleaned from the liturgical calendar, most of which is lost (I only know of one calendar page, at Harvard’s Houghton Library), especially when combined with an analysis of the liturgical contents of the manuscript. Art historians bemoan the loss of context for the historiated initials. You can see why taking manuscripts apart can be so devastating to scholars and booklovers alike: art historical and textual evidence may be lost forever along with armorial bindings, marginalia, inscriptions or bookplates that preserve evidence of the manuscript’s origins and early ownership.

The Beauvais Missal is easy to recognize, so when leaves do come on the market they are always identified and are always costly. I have seen several leaves for sale in 2013 alone (here and here). Other Ege leaves are more affordable and sometimes slip through the market unidentified or at a relatively low cost (here’s one on eBay). To spot more obscure Ege manuscripts, there are several characteristics to watch out for:

Letterpress Ege label, this for the twelfth-century Italian lectionary that became Leaf 3 in the "Fifty Original Leaves" set.

Letterpress Ege label, this for the twelfth-century Italian lectionary that became Leaf 3 in the “Fifty Original Leaves” set.

Originally, each Ege leaf was housed in a distinctive matte with red filigree ruling and a letterpress label. The mattes are not acid-free and the leaves were adhered with scotch or masking tape, so if you find a leaf still in its Ege matte, please have it removed by a professional conservator but SAVE THE MATTE! The mattes are an important part of the provenance of these leaves and even though they are not healthy homes they should be retained as evidence of the leaves’ history. So much has already been lost…let’s not lose any more.

Ege leaf in its distinctive matte (from the collection at Rutgers University; the leaf has since been removed from the matte)

Ege leaf in its distinctive matte (from the collection at Rutgers University; the leaf has since been removed from the matte)

After you’ve finished exploring manuscripts in Ohio, make your way north on I-75 and meet me in Michigan. And keep an eye out for Ege leaves!


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Manuscript Road Trip: On the Road to Niagara

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

As we leave the Berkshires, we’ll head due west on I-90, which, when it crosses into New York, becomes known as the New York State Thruway. Instead of turning south for Manhattan, however, we’ll keep going west (yes, there’s more to New York than NYC!), making our way (virtually, and therefore speedily) through central New York to Buffalo.Blog map

Not surprisingly, most medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the United States are to be found in university Special Collections libraries. There are, however, about two dozen public (municipal) libraries that, through good fortune and/or generous donors, count pre-1600 manuscripts among their holdings. In fact, our data suggest that public collections in the US hold more than 500 pre-1600 codices and more than 800 single leaves. The largest of these collections  belong to the New York Public Library and the Boston Public Library, but the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library in western New York is  worth a visit, as it is an excellent example of a typical public collection.

Book of Hours; 15th Century. Gift of James Fraser Gluck to the Buffalo Library, 1886. Gluck Manuscript Collection.

St. John the Evangelist (watched by his attribute, an eagle) in exile on the island of Patmos. (Book of Hours; mid-15th-century France. Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Gluck Manuscript Collection)

The Grovesnor Rare Book Room at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is one of the oldest public rare book collections in the country, having been initially established in 1857 by Seth Grosvenor, a local businessman who bequeathed $40,000 to the city of Buffalo for the express purpose of establishing a public library. One of the earliest medieval acquisitions was this lovely two-volume Book of Hours written in mid-fifteenth-century France and given to the library in 1886 by James Fraser Gluck, a local attorney and library curator (more info here). Like most public collections, however, the B&E Library’s strength lies with manuscript leaves, not complete codices, most of which would be well beyond the purchasing power of a small public collection. The Library owns a set of fifty leaves assembled by Otto Ege and given to the library in 1964 by Mr. and Mrs. Franz T. Stone, called “Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts“; a second set of Ege leaves, “Original Leaves from Famous Bibles,” has a few manuscript leaves but is comprised mostly of pages taken from early printed books. All of the manuscripts have been catalogued in the library’s OPAC using MARC; you can easily retrieve the records, as the Library has established a local subject classification (in the 650 field) of “Manuscripts, Latin, New York (State), Buffalo.” Just search that as the Subject, and you will find twenty-five very informative records for all of the leaves and the lone codex (the Gluck Book of Hours illustrated above).

[Note to librarians considering putting medieval manuscripts into their OPAC: I heartily recommend establishing a local 650 field as it will allow users to easily filter your manuscript records. In MARC view, it could look like this: |a Manuscripts, Latin  |z New York (State)  |z Buffalo. I leave it to your cataloguing judgment whether to go with “Manuscripts, Latin” vs. “Manuscripts, Illuminated” vs. “Manuscripts, Medieval” or some such thing.]

There are a few other collections in Buffalo with pre-1600 manuscript holdings. Canisius College, a Jesuit university, still owns the five codices recorded in the de Ricci Census (II:1213-14). The Albright-Knox Art Gallery houses another collection of Ege leaves (including yet another leaf of the Terence manuscript we met at the University of Vermont a few weeks ago). A search of their database using the keyword “leaf” with date restrictions of 500-1500 will retrieve records for and images of all of the leaves, most of which can be readily identified as having an Ege provenance. The question of how manuscripts fit into art collections is one that has yet to be satisfactorily answered. In museums lacking a distinct manuscript department, manuscripts can sometimes be found in the Prints and Drawings Department, or they may be classified with Decorative Arts (often because of their bindings). Occasionally they wind up in the European Painting department. Because they are by definition books, manuscripts and manuscript leaves don’t always fit into standard museum classification systems. The same goes for museum cataloguing databases, which are usually designed for works of art that require minimal metadata (title, artist, date, place of origin, exterior measurements). As paleographers and codicologists, we want more than the standard museum database can provide: number of lines per page, measurements of the writing space, a collation, a full description of the binding, and so on. Although the Ege provenance of the Albright-Knox leaves is extremely important, the database does not have room for that piece of information; I only know it because I recognize the leaves. Obviously museums with just a few leaves or codices can’t be expected to design their entire database structure around those few items, but it is an issue for users to keep in mind when searching for manuscripts hiding in art collections.

niagaraBefore you leave the area, don’t forget to visit nearby Niagara Falls. If you remembered your passport, we can take a quick trip to see the view from the Canadian side before turning south for Pennsylvania.


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Manuscript Road Trip: Welcome to Lake Champlain

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

As you might imagine, there are not a lot of medieval manuscripts in Vermont. I know of only two repositories: Middlebury College (which reported holdings of 15 leaves and one codex) and the University of Vermont in Burlington (which reported holdings of ten codices and 26 leaves, seven of which belong to the Robert Hull Fleming Museum). As we cross the Connecticut River, leaving New Hampshire for Vermont, let’s head north on I-89 towards Burlington to visit the University of Vermont on the shores of beautiful Lake Champlain.

Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain

The University of Vermont has owned some of these manuscripts since the early part of the twentieth century, as eight of them are recorded in Seymour de Ricci’s Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (published in 1935). They’ve now been catalogued and digitized as part of the library’s Digital Initiatives Collection.

Blog map

I’ve not looked as these images before, but I recognize at least two of the leaves as belonging to a very well-known manuscript, a copy of Terence’s works that was once owned by notorious book-breaker Otto F. Ege (more about him when we get to Ohio in a few weeks!):

New York, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library,  Med/Ren Frag. 004

Here’s another leaf from the same manuscript, part of the collection at Columbia University in NYC, for comparison: Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Med/Ren Frag. 004

The late great paleographer Albinia de la Mare attributed this beautiful humanistic bookhand to the expert scribe Giuliano di Antonio of Prato, Florence and believed it to have been written around 1460. This manuscript was still complete, its 103 leaves safely ensconced in the original binding of brown leather over wooden boards, when it was sold as lot 100 at Sotheby’s on May 28, 1934. It was bought at auction and made its way to Dawson’s Bookshop in Los Angeles; the next year, it was purchased by Otto Ege himself. It was still intact when it was described by Seymour de Ricci as Ege manuscript no. 65 in the Census of Manuscripts (II:1947). Ege dismantled the manuscript sometime after 1935 and scattered its leaves to the proverbial winds. Scott Gwara of the University of South Carolina tells me that these and other leaves were donated to the University of Vermont by Frank Teagle, a letterpress-printer who worked for Ege’s widow and who may have received at least some of these leaves as compensation for his work.

The Terence manuscript is discussed in Barbara Shailor’s seminal study of Otto Ege and in Gwara’s forthcoming Ege monograph. Ege is a character well-known to American bibliophiles, a self-proclaimed “biblioclast” active in Ohio in the 1930s and ’40s, a man whose socialist leanings (combined, ironically, with a bookdealer’s art-market savvy) trickled down even to his penchant for dismantling books and distributing/selling the resulting collections of individual leaves to small public libraries and colleges that couldn’t afford to acquire complete manuscripts. As a result of the work of scholars such as Virginia Brown, Barbara Shailor, Fred Porcheddu, and now Scott Gwara, ex-Ege leaves are becoming more and more well-known and recognizable (Melissa Conway and I have also recorded dozens of Ege leaves we’ve encountered in our travels). At least two dozen pages of the Terence manuscript have been identified in collections from Poughkeepsie to Boulder,  although many more remain to be found before the entire manuscript can be digitally reconstructed.

This fortuitous find gives me an opportunity to introduce a topic that is particularly important when thinking about medieval manuscripts in North American collections: manuscript leaves. As early as the nineteenth century, but in particular in the first half of the twentieth century, it was quite common for dealers and collectors to “break” manuscripts to be sold or given away leaf-by-leaf. For dealers, this was a way to increase their profit margin; for buyers, it was a way to own a little piece of the Middle Ages without breaking the bank. No legitimate dealer would break up a book today (or at least they would never admit to it). The result of this frenzy of dismemberment is that there are over 25,000 single leaves of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts scattered across North America, just waiting to be (digitally) reunited. Several projects that aim to do just that are already underway, and I will introduce you to some of them in the coming weeks.
Book of Hours?, 1957.17.1, Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont (recto, detail)

Book of Hours?, 1957.17.1, Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont (recto, detail)

In addition to the Terence leaves, I found this little creature lurking in the margins of a leaf in the Fleming Museum collection. Someone should tell the local cryptozoologists searching Lake Champlain for the sea monster known as “Champ” that they can find him swimming about in the Museum.


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