The Star of Salvation, an unknown Franciscan devotional dialogue in Italian with a lost sister copy in Croatia

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 4/52

Stella di Salute, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 205, fol. 1r (introductory rubric with the name of the author and date of composition)

John Frederick Lewis’ wonderful collection of two hundred Western Medieval codices, dozens of non-European manuscripts, and thousands of cuttings and single leaves is justly famous. This outstanding ensemble has been housed at the Free Library of Philadelphia since it was gifted to the institution by John Frederick’s widow, Anne Baker Lewis, in 1933. Four years later, the two hundred codices were the subject of a summary catalogue authored by Edwin Wolf.[1] And yet the Free Library is home to more than fifty additional manuscripts, which were somewhat confusingly given “Lewis E” shelfmarks of 201 and above, that made their way to the Rare Book Department on the third floor of Parkway Central Library by other means. Because they were not published in the 1937 catalogue, these manuscripts are generally less well-known. Some, including the subject of today’s post, were in fact acquired earlier; in this case, through the William Pepper Fund seven years prior to the Lewis donation, in 1926. 

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The identification of a Spanish patron for a neglected Book of Hours

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 3/52
Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Bethlehem, PA, Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Codex 19, fol. 3r

Lehigh University’s small but excellent collection of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts deserves to be better known–and soon will be thanks to the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis digitization project! Only the first sixteen of the university’s manuscripts to be acquired were described (and briefly at that) in Seymour de Ricci’s Census of medieval and renaissance manuscripts in the United States and Canada (1935–1940); later acquisitions were not listed in the supplement to the census published in 1962. In 1970, the young John C. Hirsh (now a professor of English at Georgetown University), who received his doctorate from Lehigh that very year, organized an exhibition of the manuscripts and published a short guidebook to them, which was the first attempt at a complete checklist: Western Manuscripts of the Twelfth through the Sixteenth Centuries in Lehigh University Libraries: A Guide to the Exhibition

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The prior provenance of one of the first medieval manuscripts to arrive in Philadelphia

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 2/52

Traictie des VII fruis de tribulacion, Philadelphia, The Library Company of Philadelphia, Ms. 18 875.Q, fol. 1r

The Library Company of Philadelphia is justly famous for being the first successful lending library in the western hemisphere, and one of North America’s oldest cultural institutions. And while the Library’s headquarters on Locust Street houses an unparalleled collection of books and manuscripts relating to early American history, few are aware that it is also home to about thirty Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. Several of these are exceptional not, primarily, for their content, but for the early date at which they arrived on American shores. Manuscripts known to have been present in American collections before the turn of the nineteenth century are vanishingly rare, and the paths by which they crossed the Atlantic remain relatively understudied. 

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An unpublished, autograph booklet by Jean Lemaire de Belges, presented to the Queen of France on New Year’s day 1512

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 1/52

Lemaire de Belges, Jean, 1473-1524 – Pronosticque historial de la félicité future de l’an mil cincq cens et douze, Philadelphia, The Rosenbach Museum and Library, MS 232/11, fols. 1v-2r

Our series begins auspiciously with a long-lost royal prognostication on the good fortune of the year to come, the Pronosticque historial de la félicité future de l’an mil cincq cens et douze, or, translated roughly into English, the Exemplified foretelling of the future joy of the year fifteen-hundred-and-twelve. This sixteen-folio manuscript, written and signed by the important Walloon poet and historiographer Jean Lemaire de Belges (c. 1473–c. 1525), is an autograph copy produced for the Queen of France, Anne of Brittany (1477–1514). The text is otherwise unknown, and its rediscovery in the collections of The Rosenbach Museum and Library makes for an important addition to the author’s corpus while providing new information about the literary leanings of its famed recipient. Anne, to whom the work is dedicated, was an extraordinary political leader and a great patroness of the arts. She has the distinction of being the only French sovereign to have been twice crowned, first as the wife of King Charles VIII and then, after his sudden death in 1498, as the consort of Charles’ successor and second cousin once removed, Louis XII. 

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Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project: An Introduction

March 2019-March 2020 (with a weekly post every Friday morning at 6AM EST)

The Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project has provided the opportunity to spend some two and a half years examining nearly five hundred wonderfully diverse manuscripts produced before the year 1600, and now preserved in the great codicological metropolis that is Philadelphia. This ambitious project has led to innumerable discoveries great and small by the team of scholars tasked with cataloguing this vast ensemble. Because the manuscripts in question hail from sixteen collections of differing size and scope (see a map of participating institutions here), the existing descriptions we had to work from varied considerably. In many cases, we were able to build on existing published and unpublished catalogues, but in other cases, scholarly descriptions of manuscripts were non-existent. Manuscripts ranged from the very famous, to those that were essentially identified and located as a result of this very project. However, we make use of the term “discovery” here cautiously, since we are well aware that others (beginning with the very scribes and illuminators responsible for making the manuscripts!) may indeed have previously deduced some of the facts presented in the following posts. Still, we’ve attempted to produce a selection of exciting or unexpected findings made during the course of our study and not otherwise recorded or published. Many of these findings have been enabled by new digital tools, searchable digitized full-text publications, new research on regional schools of book production and illumination undertaken over the past few decades, and good old-fashioned detective work.

Our hope is that by publicizing these discoveries on the internet, by publishing the most significant ones in print, and by including much of this information in our rich metadata, we will in turn facilitate the recognition of these hidden gems by interested researchers around the world. We also hope that some of the discoveries will form the basis for an exhibition in the near future, and, further out on the horizon, a comprehensive multi-institution print catalogue of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in Philadelphia-area collections.

This series will occur in no particular order, and is based on observations made between October 2016 and March 2019 by Nicholas Herman with guest contributions by co-catalogers Dot Porter, Amey Hutchins, Erin Connelly, Oliver Mitchell, and Judith Weston.


Nicholas Herman

Curator of Manuscripts

Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

University of Pennsylvania