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The Collation of Il Fior di Battaglia (Getty ms)

It’s always the way. You bring out a new book, and somebody comes up with something that makes you jump up and down going “I wanted that in my book!!! Why couldn’t that have come out a month ago!!!”

It’s actually a good feeling. Because no book is the last word on any subject, and no non-fiction book is ever truly finished (which is why we have second editions, third editions, etc etc.).

You may have heard that I’m into bookbinding. I got into bookbinding while I was researching Vadi, and came across the auction house catalogue for the sale of the manuscript to the Biblioteca Nazionale di Roma. The catalogue included a collation of the manuscript, which is a description of the way the pages are bound together. It’s extremely important because it can give you a great deal of insight into what might be missing from the manuscript. I’ve written about that here.

So a couple of weeks after my new Fiore book came out, Mike Chidester (who was one of the inspirations for the book) sends me this email:

A few weeks ago, while trying to do preparatory work on the second facsimile project, I ran into problems with the Getty museum on the subject of how many pages are missing from their online offerings. The reproductions department sent me six scans (the inside and outside covers and one flyleaf) and swore blind that that was all of the missing pages. I was pretty sure that was wrong, and ultimately my questions were bounced to the manuscript department, which sent me this arcane formula:

This is an example of a collation statement, which tries to capture the exact way in which the manuscript is bound together. Manuscripts are built up out of quires, which are stacks of paper that are folded in half and then sewn down the middle, so that each sheet (bifolium) becomes two pages (folia). Medieval manuscripts are often bound in quires of 4 (quaternions), which is the number of parchment sheets of roughly A4 size that you can expect to harvest from a single goat. The number actually typically ranges from 3-5 (ternions to quinternions), because perfect plans rarely survive contact with reality.

The Getty manuscript is a normal-seeming manuscript of 49 numbered folia, so one might expect 7 quaternions (for 56 total folia), with several blank pages at the beginning or end. Instead, when I created a visualization of this diagram (inspired by work I've seen Daniel Jaquet and others do), it turned out like this:

Two single bifolia bound into the spine, and then a series of very large quires—quinternions and a sexternion. What's more, any student of Fiore knows that folio 38, which contains dagger plays, is misplaced; specifically, it belongs between folia 14 and 15, which are the end of quire III and the beginning of IV. Since folio 27 is also bound into the book as a single leaf, we can surmise that 27 and 38 were originally a single bifolium, forming the outside layer of quire IV—making it a septernion, or seven-sheet quire. At the time, I thought that this was a ridiculous number of pages for a manuscript quire. What little I knew. (Excerpt reproduced with permission. Personal correspondence, May 27th 2020).

Finally, finally, finally, we have a collation statement for Il Fior di Battaglia. And the mystery of how folio 38 ended up where it did is solved. It used to be the first page of the next quire, and at some point the vellum tore along its fold, the pages fell out, and what should be folio 15 got bound back in in the wrong place. That binder needs a good slap round the back of the head, of course. But it’s always a relief to get confirmation of a theory. Until now, there was no way to be certain beyond all doubt that the naughty folio 38 wasn’t in fact in its original place (if, for instance, it appeared in the middle of an intact quire), and Fiore just decided to strip a page of dagger plays and dump them between the pollax and the spear plays. 

O happy day, calloo callay! But now of course I have to edit the introduction section of From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice.

Not this year though. 

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