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Manuscript Fragments

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0103 MS FRAG
Held at: University College London
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Full title: Manuscript Fragments
Date(s): 12th century-19th century
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: c150 items
Name of creator(s): c150 items
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Fragments of medieval and early modern manuscripts on parchment can commonly be found inside the binding of printed works. This method of recycling was a common practice between the medieval period and the 17th century, when manuscripts superseded by printed editions were sold to printers and bookbinders. Medieval manuscripts are often visually appealing and parchment was robust but expensive, so folios from manuscripts were recycled for use as decorative covers and endpapers or to reinforce the binding of new printed works.


Scope and content/abstract:

Fragments of mainly medieval and early modern manuscripts, primarily leaves from liturgical texts including missals, breviaries, psalters, bibles and biblical commentaries, but also including fragments of popular medieval textbooks including the Codex Justinianus and Graecismus . Also includes fragments of medieval music including noted missals, antiphonaries, graduals and noted breviaries. The music section includes fragments from two incunabula.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Latin Greek Hebrew or Aramaic French English German Dutch

System of arrangement:

Arranged according to language, with a separate section for fragments with musical notation.

Conditions governing access:

Open. The collection has also been digitized and is available online. See UCL Digital Collections

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

Finding aids:

Item level catalogue available online

Archival Information

Archival history:

The early provenance of the fragments is obscure, but most were removed from the bindings of other manuscripts or early printed books where they had generally been used as pastedowns or outer coverings. The origins of some can be traced to Germany, particularly the music fragments which have distinctive German or Bohemian musical notation. Other fragments have German annotation or relate to German places. A small number of texts such as fragments of works by Justinian are mostly of Italian origin and it has been suggested that they may have been sourced from Bologna, where the university was a centre of legal studies in the medieval period.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Many of the fragments were purchased by Professor Robert Priebsch (Professor of German at University College London, 1898-1931) at a sale in Bonn in [1921] in order to give students practical experience of palaeography. It is not known precisely how many were purchased by him, but a collection of 121 items has been accrued. The item MS/FRAG/LAT/30 was found with a note (in German) about a collection of manuscript fragments which were bought in 1922 and accessioned as no.23174, which may be Priebsch's original purchase. The note describes a palaeographical album containing 35 fragments in Spanish, Old French, Latin and German, some with musical notation.

Kathryn Kendall carried out a study of 18 legal and didactic fragments in the late 20th century. In her introduction she suggests that all the MS fragments were purchased at the same time, and may even have come from the same collection. However, she does not provide evidence for this. Some of the fragments are annotated with blue, purple or pencil numbers which may indicate that those with the same number were part of the same auction lot, although this is speculation.

In addition to the group of fragments, around 30 MS deeds and 10 printed fragments were also boxed together. It is not known why these were housed as one collection, but there is a clear division between fragments of manuscripts, many of which are German in origin, and manuscript deeds, most of which originated in France and are intact (i.e. not fragments). The deeds have been catalogued separately, see MS DEEDS, and for the printed fragments see PRINT FRAG.

Allied Materials

Related material:

UCL Special Collections also holds a small collection of Printed Fragments (9 items) (Ref: PRINT FRAG). A full catalogue is available online.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Source: Kathryn Kendall, 'Fragments of mediaeval text-books in the Library of University College London' (available for consultation at University College London Special Collections), discusses the collection of fragments, particularly the legal and grammatical texts, which are described there. Dorothy K. Coveney, "A Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Library of University College, London" (London: University of London, 1935). Compiled by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Oct 2001; updated May 2018

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