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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Carson Koepke

I've had the collecting instinct for as long as I remember, and I began collecting early manuscripts and documents as a PhD student in Medieval Studies. I was inspired to collect in this vein partly because of my interest in writing cultures of the past and their diversity of expression and partly because I aspire to build a teaching collection. I look for items that feature a well-executed script, that are representative of a particular tradition, or that are visually, textually or codicologically interesting in some way. It could be the style of binding or the elegance of a hand. As such, the contents of my collection are eclectic, but they are united by a focus on writing produced by hand. 

My collection contains medieval and early modern documents, fragments of medieval manuscripts, and several complete manuscripts of more recent origin from around the world. The intact manuscripts include Ethiopian psalters and collections of Marian hagiography, Japanese historical accounts, a Latin notarial manual and a  Garshuni herbal. For this exhibition, I have selected a few of my favorite items: a medieval English document in Latin featuring a lively early gothic script, an illustrated Ethiopian manuscript containing Marian texts, and an Ethiopian icon diptych carved from wood and stone.

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Deed of sale for land.
Document in Latin. East Yorkshire, England, c. 1200.

110 × 180 mm, parchment with 14 lines of text in protogothic documentary script. Missing seal.

This undated deed of sale records a transaction between William Bate of Goldale (modern Gowdall) and Radulf Moye of Goldale for land on the Aire river in what is now East Yorkshire. As is the case with most legal documents from this period, it is written in Latin. The parchment tie that would have held a wax seal is lost.

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Marian texts, illustrated with scenes from the gospels.
Manuscript in Gəʿəz. Ethiopia, 20th century.

This manuscript on parchment contains Marian texts written in Gəʿəz, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Church. The first quire is dedicated to four illustrations of scenes from the gospels, including Christ's Passion. The text is copied in two columns of 17 lines and features rubrication, both for decorative purposes, as seen on the opening folio, and to highlight names throughout. The codex is accompanied by a fabric cover and a leather carrying case.

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Icon diptych of Christ and St. George.
Panel carvings with inscriptions. Ethiopia, 20th century.

This folding diptych features crosses carved on the outside and icons on the inside. The left-hand panel depicts Christ wearing the crown of thorns and holding a book. The right-hand panel, which consists of a stone slab set in a wooden frame, depicts St. George slaying a dragon, a ubiquitous motif in Ethiopian iconography. The figures are labeled with three inscriptions in Gəʿəz. The diptych is secured with a leather tie when closed.