• Valuable Manuscripts and Print auction at Christies

    Sale 1160

    Valuable Manuscripts and Printed Books

    20 November 2013, London, King Street

  • Lot 52

    AN ENGLISH FOLDING ALMANAC, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM

    Price Realised  

    AN ENGLISH FOLDING ALMANAC, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
    [England, c.1415-1420]

    121 x 38mm (folded); 238 x 110mm (unfolded). 7 leaves, each leaf folded three times with headings on the outer fold, opening to three pages of text, diagrams and images (the text occasionally running onto the verso of the outer fold). Written in brown ink in a small gothic bookhand ruled in blind, pinpricks survive, headings in red with opening initial in blue with red penwork, paraphs alternately in red and blue, initials touched in red, one illuminated initial 'A' opening the Canon table, an initial in burnished gold with purple penwork opening each month of the calendar, ONE LARGE MINIATURE depicting Zodiac man, computational tables and lunar and solar tables with diagrams in red, blue and burnished gold (lacking the calendar leaf for July-September, some marginal staining to outer folds of leaves). CONTEMPORARY BINDING of purple velvet and green and pink silk brocade.

    PROVENANCE:
    (a) The almanac follows John Somer's Kalendar ad meridiem Oxonie of 1380, prepared at the instigation of Thomas Kingsbury, Provincial of the English Franciscans under the patronage of Joan of Kent, Princess of Wales, and mother of Richard II. It covers the four Metonic cycles beginning 1387, 1406, 1425 and 1444, listing eclipses of the sun from 1384 to 1462 and eclipses of the moon from 1387 to 1462. The illumination of Zodiac man and the decoration of the initials is characteristic of English manuscripts of the first quarter of the 15th century, and a dating of c.1415 is indicated by the presence of the feast of John of Beverley in the calendar, following Henry V's proclamation of a national cult to the saint subsequent to his victory at Agincourt on 7 May 1415. (b) '1308' in pencil on f.1, possibly SIR THOMAS PHILLIPPS (1792-1872). (c) SIR JOHN ENGLISH DOLBEN (1750-1837), 4th Baronet of Finedon Hall, Northamptonshire. (d) DAME EDITH LOUISA SITWELL (1887-1964), gifted to her in May 1940.

    CONTENT:
    Canon to the table of movable feasts, with John Somer's preface to his Kalendarium f.1; Calendar with movable feasts, with three months per leaf ff.2-4; Table of the Planetary Hours, table to find the degree of the moon for every day and Zodiac man f.5; Lunar eclipses (second, third and fourth cycles) f.6; Solar eclipses and first cycle of lunar eclipses f.7.

    A PREVIOUSLY UNRECORDED EXAMPLE OF A RARE ENGLISH FOLDING ALAMANAC IN ITS ORIGINAL BINDING - ONE OF ONLY THIRTY OF ITS KIND STILL SURVIVE. A portable compendium of calendrical, computational, medical and astrological material, the folding almanac -- or vade mecum, girdle book, physician's calendar, etc. -- provides a fascinating insight into the fundamental importance of astrology in medieval medicine. Although the Faltbuch and various livres plicatifs were present in Europe at this time, by all accounts the compression of this specific type of data into a portable format seems to have been an exclusively English phenomenon of the late 14th and 15th centuries. Twenty-nine other such manuscripts survive, ten of which are in the British Library, with only one other in private hands (Talbot private collection, see C.H. Talbot, 'A Mediaeval Physician's vade mecum', Journal of the History of Medicine, 16, 1961). Of these, the present manuscript is the only one to preserve its contemporary, bright, decorative soft binding in a near-original state; the remnants of the Turk's head indicating how it would have been worn hanging from the body, likely attached to a belt at the waist. Hilary M. Carey discusses the importance of the folding almanac as a facilitator for the development of more sophisticated astro-medical practice of the later age and gives a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the twenty-nine other extant folding almanacs in her recent articles on the subject ('A Key Manuscript Source for Astro-Medical Practice', SHM vol. 16, no 3, 2003 and 'Astrological Medicine and the Medieval Folded Almanac', SHM, vol. 17, no 4, 2004).


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