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Introduction to Western Manuscripts at Dartmouth College

A Handlist of Western Manuscripts to 1600

The origins of the College's early manuscript collection are undocumented. Imprecise acquisition records of the nineteenth century indicate that some single leaves were acquired by gift at least as early as the presidency of Samuel Colcord Bartlett (1877-1892). It is known that President Bartlett brought materials back from the Middle East and Europe for the Library's collections and the first early manuscripts may well have been acquired at that time.

The impetus to develop a significant collection of early manuscripts for teaching purposes lies with the work of Harold Goddard Rugg, sometime Assistant Librarian of the College. Mr. Rugg labored for nearly fifty years to develop a small but rich collection of early manuscripts so that students at Dartmouth could examine and study materials from all eras of the history of the written word.

Mr. Rugg's endeavors were supported and supplemented by a series of donors of early manuscripts. Four individuals stand out for both the size and the richness of their gifts. Arthur L. Gale, Class of 1927, presented an important series of late medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts that have been seen as the core of the collection. In 1972, W. E. Thomas presented a series of single leaves of primarily liturgical works that is both extensive and rich in examples of styles, hands, and types. Madelyn C. Hickmott's gift in 1980 of a number of exceptional late manuscripts, including the Hickmott Hours and the Preces Latinae, has greatly enriched the collection. Finally, the gifts of Mark Lansburgh, Class of 1949, beginning in the 1960's and continuing to the present, have given the collection international prominence. As an astute and wise collector, Mark Lansburgh assembled a particularly important collection of manuscripts that exemplifies the development of writing and the manuscript from earliest times through Renaissance. Many of these manuscripts have been given to Dartmouth and form one of the richest portions of the collection.

As has been noted, the early manuscripts held by Dartmouth College form a teaching collection. It is the aim of the Library to gather examples of manuscript types, styles, formats, and hands so that students will gain an appreciation of the development of the written word from earliest times to the present. Additions to the collection are actively sought and the collection is added to annually.

This digital database and the original 1993 handlist that it is based upon were developed to assist both students and faculty in finding and viewing materials appropriate to their research and teaching needs. It contains a reference to every Western manuscript owned by the Library written before 1600 as well as selected images that illustrate palaeographical, codicological, and art historical styles. The format is meant to provide quick access to materials and is not intended to supplant either the on-line catalog or Robert McGrath's excellent descriptions of the illuminated manuscripts held by the College.

The original handlist can be downloaded here as a pdf file. The format of the handlist, and therefore each online database entry, is as follows:
• Contents: including description of handwriting and decoration if applicable
• Author and/or Title
• Physical description: collation, size [height by width in cm.]
• Call number
• McGrath number: referring to the entry in McGrath's catalog
• Donor statement

Users of the collection should request materials by call number, not by McGrath number. Further information on any of these manuscripts can be obtained in the Special Collections Department of the Library. Finally, it should be noted that this online database is complete for acquisitions through 2000. Recent additions to the collection are not noted here but may be found in the library's online general catalog.

Last Updated: 8/15/16