About HoB Around Oxford Hands-On

Bric-a-brac or: A breviary in an Oxford Charity Shop

by Henrike Lähnemann

On 4 August 2021, Mark Butler, an Oxford medical researcher working in the Radcliffe Department of Medicine  , entered the Sobell House Charity Shop on Little Clarendon Street  where a  batch of framed leaves, prints and other miscellaneous donations had been placed at the back of the shop. Recently, while talking about my teaching of Palaeography and History of the Book to Master students in Modern Languages during one of our daily wild swimming tours in the River Thames, I had mentioned that I counted as one of my teaching successes that it had enabled one of the students in the class to spot an original page from a Latin Ship of Fools edition from 1497 in a Charity Shop (Oxfam on Broad Street).

Charity shop finds side-by-side: A breviary leaf from the 14th cent. and a Ship of Fools edition from 1497

This had sparked Mark’s interest and once he saw a piece of parchment among the framed lot, he tried to phone me but I was at that point busy preparing a class for the UNIQ+ summerschool in The Queen’s College Library. So he picked it up, saw the pencil marked price £3.50 on the back and the shop to sold  it to him at that price. He sent me a WhatsApp message:

WhatsApp message about the potential find

He also did some preliminary googling and came up with potentially another leaf from the same breviary

google result for ‘Breviary, Cologne, 14th cent., Folio Fine Art’

compared it to a leaf /

Peter Kidd, cataloguer for the Bodleain, tweeting as mssprovenance, wrote: This is presumably the Cologne Breviary mentioned in de Hamel’s _Cutting Up Manuscripts for Pleasure and Profit_ booklet, p. 19:

Christopher de Hamel: Cutting Up Manuscripts for Pleasure and Profit, p. 19

Folio bought it, already fairly incomplete, at Sotheby’s, 10 July 1967, lot 79; I’ve annotated my copy of the catalogue with a few other later sales of single leaves:

Sotheby’s sales catalogue 1967

Breviary for the diocese of Cologne, in Latin, comprising a Calendar, a liturgical psalter followed by a litany and hymns, the Temporale (Advent to Advent), the Sanctorale (St. Andrew to St. Catherine) and the Commune Sanctorum

Schoenberg database no. 1634

Further leaves mentioned by Lisa Fagin Davis: the mss was sold twice at Sotheby’s: in 1967 and then – reduced by Folio Art to only 29 remaining leaves! – again in 2005! https://sdbm.library.upenn.edu/manuscripts/1634

Sotheby’s sales catalogue 2005

This can be read as a cautionary tale about the evil of cutting up books and / or as an empowering story of the astonishing crowdsourcing power of #medievaltwitter!

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