or abridgement often used to save space and effort when writing. A specialized dictionary can help to decipher the original word.


Ornament of stylized, foliate motif often used in medieval art and deriving from the depiction of the acanthus plant in a decorative context, for instance in the margin or border decoration.


Symbolic depiction of an idea.

Anthropomorphic initial

Initial composed wholly or partly of human figures; such motifs occur in other decorative contexts as well. 


Antiphoner or Antiphonary, often a large format book containing the sung portions of the Divine Office. Made for use by a choir. The contents are generally arranged in accordance with the Temporale, Sanctorale, and the Common of Saints in liturgical order. For the chants sung in Mass, see for another choirbook: Gradual. 


or Responsory, a chant sung in response by one side of the choir to the other; alternate chanting or singing. 


Object that identifies a saint, usually the instrument of the martyr’s torture. 


Work of which the authenticity or authorship is in doubt. 


Manuscript handwritten by the author himself.




see cords.


(French) 'bottom of the page', unframed images in the lower margin that may (or may not) refer to the text or image above. Found in gothic illumination from the 13th century onwards. 


In the Middle Ages and Renaissance the Bible included the Hebrew Scriptures (also called the Old Testament), the Old Testament Apocrypha, and the New Testament, in the Latin translation known as the Vulgate. 

Bible Historiale

Biblical narrative in prose form, written by Guyart des Moulins and based on his translation into French (1291-94) of the Historia scholastica of Peter Comestor, interspersed with a French translation of parts of the Bible (Paris, c. 1250). The illustrations (usually column wide) depict many scenes not normally found in the standard repertory of biblical images. 

Bible Moralisee

Most important type of medieval picture bible composed during the 13th century, it consists of short biblical passages and related commentaries with moral or allegorical lessons with many illustrations. 

Biblia Pauperum

Latin for: 'Bible of the Poor', consisting of a series of miniatures illustrating the parallels between the Old and New Testaments, scenes from the life of Christ accompanied by Old Testament scenes and figures of the prophets together with abbreviated texts. Not easy to read or comprehend. 


A sheet of vellum or paper folded in half to produce two leaves (i.e. four pages). A number of bifolia folded together form a quire. 


Covering of a manuscript or printed book. When leaves are assembled into gatherings or quires and sewn together, they are sewn onto supports (cords) The ends of the cords are attached to wooden boards which, together with the spine, are then covered (usually) with leather. Clasps, straps and pin mechanisms could be attached to hold the book in shape. Bosses might be added to protect the binding and the leather might be decorated. 


Blank page(s) that are left intentionally in the book, located at beginning, at the end or at a clearly marked division of a book. 

Blind stamping

or blind tooling: Decoration, picture, or lettering that has been impressed onto the covers of a book with metal stamps or tools (letters, rolls, fillets etc.) without using leaf metal or other colouring material ("blind" meaning uncoloured). One of the earliest techniques to decorate bindings.


or xylography: essentially a picture book with illustration and text being cut on wood and printed on one side of the paper only. Impressed from two-page blocks reaching across the sheet, in a brownish or greyish water-based ink, often hand-coloured, and mostly of a popular and/or religious character. Extremely rare and valuable. 


Stiff, thick covers at the front and back of a book, often made of wood (oak) and covered with leather. Later, in the 16th century, pasteboard became popular. On the inside pastedowns may be applied to conceal the mechanism. 


Device for marking key openings in a book (since the 12th century). These could be tabs or knotted strips of leather or parchment attached to the fore edge of the book or ribbons of linen or tawed leather attached to the headband. Some carry an extra device to assist in (re)finding an exact line or relevant chronological or astronomical calculations (a volvelle). 

Book of Hours

Prayerbook for private devotion of lay people, modelled on the Divine Office and representing a shorter version of the devotions performed at the eight canonical hours. The Hours of the Virgin is the central text, usually preceded by a liturgical Calendar and followed by the Short Office of the Cross, Hours of the Holy Spirit, Hours of the Trinity, Hours of the Passion, the Office of the Dead, the Penitential Psalms, Litany of Saints and Suffrages (prayers) to Saints. Dutch Books of Hours may also contain the Hours of Eternal Wisdom. A bestseller from the 14th to 16th centuries, that often was illuminated with miniatures depending on the patron’s budget. 


see ex-libris


Decorative surrounds in margins evolving from the extenders that sprang from decorated letters. These can be full borders surrounding an image or text on all sides, or partial framing only a part. Some are composed of foliate decoration or bars, the latter often have sprouting plant forms known as foliate bar borders. 


A thick, raised metal ornament applied to a binding with a protective function. 


A liturgical service book containing texts necessary for the daily celebration of the Divine Office. Varying in detail in accordance with the rite of the monastic order or the use of the geographic area. 


Enhancing the smoothness and shininess of gold by polishing with a burnisher – a smooth, hard stone (such as agate), metal, or bone. See also: gilding.




Calligraphic decorative extensions to strokes of letters, usually on the first or last lines of a page, sometimes featuring human or animal heads.


A list of feast-days of the liturgical year, with the most important feasts written in red (or in deluxe books: in gold), varying per diocese, region or city as well as in the different monastic orders, according to preferences for local saints and practices.


Leather from a calf hide or cattle hide used for covering a bookbinding (also in morocco, sheep and vellum).


Manuscript or penmanship whose beauty of script is its principal attraction; also any fancy pen-work in a manuscript.

Cancel leaf

New leaf, often the title page, to which changes have been made, which is glued onto the narrow stub left by the removed leaf which has been excised.

Canon prayers

Opening prayers before the beginning of the most solemn part of Mass, e.g. the consecration. Often headed by a full page Crucifixion miniature.

Canon Tables

Concordance system on the Gospels devised by Eusebius of Caesaria (4th century), in which passages are numbered in the text and correspond to tables, arranged in columnar form, indicating the concordance of passages among the Gospels.

Canonical Hours

Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline.


A tablet for inscription or ornament; originally in the form of a scroll, but also round or oval etc.


or custode, repetition at the end of each quire of the first word(s) of the next quire, for the binder.

Catch and clasp

Metal fittings attached to a binding to keep the book shut. Clasps became popular during the 14th century as a combination of metal fittings and leather straps; later entirely of metal.


Slip-on cover of leather, velvet or linen to protect the binding and its fore-edge. De-luxe and extremely rare.

Choir book

Books used by a choir to sing the chants of Mass or Divine Office (see Antiphonal, Gradual).

Classical texts

Manuscripts, containing classical texts of Greek and Roman Antiquity, rediscovered during the Renaissance (often from Carolingian origin), studied and re-edited by Humanists.

Coat of arms

Heraldic device of a noble person usually depicted on an escutcheon often accompanied by a crest, motto and supporters.


From caudex (Latin for the tree bark) is a book composed of folded sheets sewn along one edge, originating in the 1st century when tablets or rolls were mostly used.


Study of medieval manuscripts in all its aspects of production and contents, also called: archaeology of the medieval book.


Term describing the proper sequence and completeness of pages and gatherings of a book.


Brief text, usually at the end of a book, recording information on the production of a manuscript or printed book (name of scribe or printer, when and where written or printed).


Volume: a book with several texts.


see scribe.


The bands of leather or hemp onto which quires are sewn at the spine to form the book. They appear, single or double, as raised bands under the covering of the spine.


Metal plaques attached to the corners of the binding to protect them. The term also refers to a decorative motif in the corners of a miniature or border.


Margins of a book having been trimmed by the binder, usually too close to the text or decoration.




Collection of papal letters, or decrees, containing authoritative decisions on points of doctrine or law made for study and for use in courts. The most important production centre was in Bologna (Italy).

Dedication copy

Copy of a book inscribed by the author to the person to whom the book is dedicated.


A motto of a nobleman; see also printer’s device.

Devotio Moderna

Spiritual reform movement beginning in the eastern Netherlands under the influence of Gerardus Magnus (Geert Grote, d. 1384), greatly influencing 15th-century text and book production in the Low Countries and neighbouring Germany.

Divine Office

Set of prayers for the canonical hours of prayer said daily by priests and members of religious orders.




Pictorial allegory or symbolic representation, often accompanied by a motto. It can serve as an identifying sign for a person or a family.


One or more blank or decorated leaves at the beginning or end of a book applied to the boards or serving as flyleaves.


Liturgical book containing the Epistle readings for the Mass arranged according to the liturgical year. The Epistles were taken from the New Testament. 


Liturgical book containing those portions of the Gospels of the New Testament written by the four evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, read during Mass or in public offices of the Church.

Evangelist symbol

Symbols of the evangelists derived from the Old Testament visions of Ezekiel and the vision of St. John in the Apocalypse. Matthew is represented by a man; Mark by a lion; Luke by a bull; and John by an eagle.


Biblical passages to be read at the Mass, in the liturgical order of the year.


Label or bookplate usually made of paper, affixed to the front pastedown to denote ownership by an individual or a library.


End of a text or the last words in a manuscript.



Flesh side

Side of parchment that originally faced the animal's flesh. Generally whiter and softer than the hair side. The two sides are often readily distinguishable.


Extra leaves at the beginning or end of a book serve to protect the text. Sometimes recycled from used manuscripts, often carrying old texts, pen trials and inscriptions concerning the provenance.


Sheet of writing material, one half of a bifolium. The front and back are referred to as recto and verso. "Folio" and "folios" (or "folia") are often abbreviated as f. and ff. Folio is also used to denote a large volume size.


The numbering of leaves (not pages), commonly found in manuscripts. Pagination (the numbering of pages) is rare in books printed before 1475.

Fore edge

The edge of a book opposite the spine (sometimes inscribed, decorated, painted, or gilt).


Illustration at the beginning of a book, usually facing the title page.




Solution of tannic and gallic acids soaked out in water, basis of ink. Also used in tanning processes.


or quire: folded leaves of parchment or paper, bound together to form a book.

Gauffered edges

A pattern tooled on gilt edges of a book.


or gilt, application of gold or silver to a surface. Gold could be applied as an ink or in an expensive powdered form for use in detailed work. In medieval illumination, however, more frequently applied in the form of gold leaf, simply laid down on an area applied with glair or gum or on a raised ground of gesso (= a white paint mixture). Such grounds enabled the gilded surface to be tooled. The gold could be burnished or left in its slightly duller state. Gilding formed the first state in the painting processes of illumination. The term gilt refers also to gold tooled decoration of a binding.


Word(s) inserted in the margin or between the lines of a text to clarify or comment on it.


Principal liturgical choir book containing the chants sung for the celebration of Mass.


Creature combining human and animal forms, or forms from more than one animal, also called a hybrid. Often found in the margins of manuscripts.


The writing or painting surface that is already covered with a layer of paint, or the base for metallic pigment such as gesso or gum.



Hair side

The side of a parchment that once carried the animal's hair. It is generally darker and smoother than the flesh side and may carry speckled traces of hair follicles.


Pointed implement of metal or bone (often a stylus) used for ruling, drawing, and annotation; leaves a ridge-and-furrow effect on the writing surface rather than a graphic mark.


The top edge of a manuscript.

Historiated initial

First letter of a manuscript section enclosing an identifiable scene or figure, usually related to the text in which it appears.


Bright pen markings (often in red) to highlight a letter, word, sentences, and/or passages of text.


see Book of Hours.


see: Notation.




All copies of a book printed during one press run. When type was reset each time a press was used, this term was synonymous with edition.


Term that can refer either to the place of printing or to the printer.


Beginning of a text or the first words in a manuscript.


Book, pamphlet, or anything printed with "movable type" before 1501 (Latin plural: incunabula: swaddling clothes, cradle). Works printed after January 1, 1501 are called "post-incunabula".


Alphabetical listing of names or topics mentioned in a book, with their leaf (folio) or page numbers.


Medieval ink was a solution of gall and gum, coloured by the addition of carbon (lampblack) and/or iron salts. The ferrous ink produced by iron salts sometimes faded to a red-brown or yellow. Copper salts were occasionally used too, sometimes fading to grey-green. Ink was used for drawing, ruling and writing. When diluted, it could be applied with a brush as a wash. The gallic and tannic acids in ink (Latin: encaustum: "burnt in") with oxidation of its ingredients could cause ink to eat into the writing surface.




or alignment is the aligning of the top, bottom, sides, or middle of text or illustration on a page. In manuscripts also: written space.




see plummet.


(Latin: lectionarium) Liturgical book containing the daily lessons from the Old Testament, the Epistles from the New Testament, and portions of the Gospels to be read during the Mass.

Limp binding

Binding composed of parchment (or other material) without boards. Generally used during the later Middle Ages and early modern period for smaller books.


Medieval bookscripts are distinguished by the form of their letters, each script having its own characteristics, from Carolingian minuscule to littera batarda, cursiva, hybrida, rotunda, textualis.




Notes written in the margins of a page around the text.

Master of …

Anonymous artist, often named after an important patron (Master of Marechal Boucicaut, Master of Sir John Talbot, Master of Jacques de Besancon) or after a key manuscript.

Metal point

Writing implement, made of metal and used for annotation, drawing, and ruling which leaves a trace element to the metal used (and any alloys present).


(Latin: miniare = to color with red lead). Painted illustration, sometimes on an inserted page and not necessarily an intrinsic part of the layout of the manuscript.


One or more pages that have been incorrectly folded, bound in the wrong place, or bound in upside down.


Liturgical book containing the texts for celebrating Mass throughout the liturgical year (oldest surviving: 10th century). Often with a Calendar, Temporale, Ordinary of the Mass including the Canon, Votive Masses, Sanctorale, Common of Saints, Capitula, and Collects. Varying per diocese, different monastic orders or patron, according to preferences for local saints and practices.


Variants of good quality leather made from goatskin, which is appropriate for dyeing, and generally used in better bindings.


Leaves, miniatures, maps, etc. that have been strengthened by backing with paper, thin cloth or parchment.




In art, a nimbus, halo, or aureole around the head of a figure indicates a holy or sacred person.


Early form of music notation presenting melodies (of Gregorian chants, 8th-12th centuries) using signs not single notes. Another notational genre is the German Hufnagel Schrift presenting square notation.



Office of the Dead

Set of Psalms, other Bible readings, and prayers, usually included in Books of Hours, intended to help souls in Purgatory to attain salvation, often part of a Book of Hours. Commemoration of the dead and praying for the soul played a major role in medieval life and society.


Chemical reaction resulting from exposure to oxygen, causing silver (and white, yellow, or red lead) to fade and/or turn a silver-black and to bleed.




Science or art of deciphering and determining the date of ancient writing, or systems of writing.


The range of colours used in a work. The term derives from the name of the flat platter on which paints were sometimes mixed, although during the Middle Ages shells were more commonly used.


(Greek: palimpsestos, "scraped again") is reused writing support material from which the underlying text has been erased (often incomplete so that underlying text still may be read with the assistance of ultraviolet light).


On a binding: engraved metal blocks used to impress a design on a large part or the whole of a book cover, producing either a blind or gilded impression (see tooling). First used in Flanders (13th century).


A Chinese invention, learned by the Arabs (by the mid 8th century). Made in Muslim Spain by the late 11th century; manufactured in Italy and the Mediterranean (since 12th and 13th centuries), spreading next to Switzerland, the Rhineland, and France. In the 16th century, paper production was established as an industry. Made from rags soaked and pulverised to pulp, collected in a wooden frame strung with wires (making horizontal and vertical lines; often with a design or monogram, a so-called watermark), agitated until the fibres fused to form a sheet of paper. Pressed and dried. By its watermark paper may be identified, dated and localized.


Writing support material made from the papyrus plant (Egypt), where it was used since c. 3000 BC for single sheet documents or pasted to form roles. Sturdy and plentiful. In the 4th century, generally, replaced by parchment.


or vellum: support material for writing, named after Pergamon (Turkey), an early production centre; supplanting papyrus as the most popular writing support material in 4th century and replaced by paper in the 16th century. Generally used, although correctly applied only to sheep and goatskin, and vellum reserved for calf skin. Animal skins were de-fleshed, stretched on a frame, scraped and pumiced, whitened (with chalk) and cut to size. Hair and flesh-side often continue to be distinguishable.


or Legendary: a collection of narratives in which the life, martyrdom, translation of relics, or miracles of the saints are recounted.


Leaf pasted onto the inside of a board to conceal the mechanics of the binding. Often formed of fragments of earlier manuscripts considered dispensible.


Split reed (in Latin: calamus, in Arabic: qalam) used to write during Antiquity; a frayed reed was used as a brush. In the 6th century, replaced by the more flexible quill pen and animal-hail brushes, better suited for work on parchment. A quill is formed of the flight feather of the wing of a bird, often a goose (in Latin: penna, feather). Cursive – more rapidly written – scripts were generally produced with a thin pen and formal book-scripts with a broad pen.

Pen flourishes

Fine linear decoration of initials or of other decorative features, usually with red or blue ink, found in many kinds of manuscripts.


Colouring agent in paint. Paints used in illumination consist of vegetable, mineral, and animal extracts, ground or soaked out and mixed with glair, perhaps, with some glue and water added.


Leadpoint or plummet is a piece of lead alloy, sometimes contained in a holder (the precursor of a pencil), used for drawing, annotation and ruling (since the 11th century).


Liturgical manual containing episcopal offices (ordination, consecration of the church, confirmation, etc.).


Substance like chalk, ash, powdered bone, bread crumbs, or pumice rubbed into a writing surface to improve it. Pounce can reduce greasiness and whiten parchment. Also used for a technique employed in the transfer of an image by reproducing a dotted outline on a sheet beneath.


or portulan charts: navigational maps based on compass directions and estimated distances observed by the pilots at sea. Made since the 13th century, first in Catalonia and Italy, Spain, and Portugal.


Marking of a leaf by a point of a knife to guide ruling, also used for the series of marks that resulted. Pricking was generally conducted before the bifolia were folded to form a quire.

Printer’s device

or mark, also publisher’s device or mark, usually a woodcut symbol or emblem, often with a motto, that was used as a trademark.


A book may be important because of who owned it, thus the history of the ownership or provenance of a particular book (inscriptions, bookplates, auctions records, booksellers' records, etc.) is an important subject of research.


Book containing the Book of Psalms from the Old Testament, usually intended for private, devotional use, serving as the main prayer book for the celebration of the Divine Office.


Glass used in powdered form as pounce on parchment.



Quarter leather

Book with only the spine (or a quarter) bound in leather, and the rest of the book in a different material, such as cloth or paper.


or gathering: section of folded leaves of which a book is formed. Quire numeration consists of numbers written on a quire (usually on its final verso) to facilitate correct following order for binding. Quire signatures are numbers and/or letters written or printed in a quire to facilitate the arrangement of its internal components (the leaves).




Front side of a leaf, abbreviated as r (in contrast to the verso, or back side).


Spine replaced with new material.


Liturgical book containing the prayers for the administration of all the sacraments except the Eucharist.


Principal vehicle for writing during Antiquity, originally formed of sheets of papyrus pasted or sewn together. Written in columns, unrolled horizontally from left to right, generally replaced by the codex in the 4th century, but continued to be used for chronicles, genealogies etc., some prayer rolls also survive.


Directions that are not part of the text, but included in the manuscript as a guide for the reader. Usually written in red ink (Latin: rubric= red).


Process by which a frame and/or horizontal lines are produced to guide the hand in writing; also referring to the lines thus produced. Ruling was guided by pricking. Before the late 11th century, ruling was generally executed with a hardpoint. Leadpoint, permitting greater flexibility, was used in the layout of individual pages. In the later 12th century, ruling was also done in (coloured) ink. Italian humanists revived the use of hardpoint.




Liturgical book containing the prayers recited by the priest during the Mass.


Professional copyist of manuscripts and documents.


Room for writing, especially in a monastery.


Powdered gold mixed with gum arabic or acacia gum into a kind of gold ink, and applied with pen or brush.


A box with one open side, made to fit a book to protect. Sometimes supplied by the owner of the book.


Flat edge (apart from the raisen cords) at which a book is sewn together. Rounded, glued spines hammered into shape, were first introduced in the early 16th century. Protective extensions at either end are known as end tabs.


The rise of the universities around 1200 and the growth in consumer demand led to increasing specialisation and commercialisation in book production. Middlemen known as stationers (‘cartolai’ and ‘libraires’) emerged. They supplied materials to craftsmen, organized work and received and subcontracted commissions. This stimulated new techniques of book production.




Tablets of wood (sometimes ivory) filled with wax, used as writing surfaces. Principle writing medium during Antiquity used for informal drafts, accounts, in educations, etc.


Foot or lower end of a book.


Process of manufacturing leather by soaking animal skin in tannin, an acidic substance, giving leather a red-brown coloration. Textblock Rectangular accumulation of paper that constitute the pages inside a book.


see cords.


Decoration of a surface (on a binding) with the aid of metal tools and stamps. The impression or stamp is called blind if it remains uncoloured. Gold tooling became popular in the 15th century. Gilded surfaces in illumination were also sometimes tooled.


see cropped.


The set of cast metal letters or characters which are used to print text. As the pieces of type (sorts) are assembled to form a text and disassembled after the print run, it is called movable type.


Printer, a person skilled or engaged in typography, the art and technique of printing with movable type.


Interpretive system in Christian thought wherein people, events, and passages of the Old Testament are seen as prefigurations of New Testament themes, as the New Testament is a fulfilment of the Old. See also Bible Moralisee and Biblia Pauperum.




Preliminary drawing that lies under the final painted image.




From veal or veau in French (calf), writing material made from cow or calf skin. See also parchment.


Backside of a folio or leaf, abbreviated as v and sometimes denoted as b, in contrast to recto.


Small ornamental or decorative design on a title page or as a head- or tail-piece to a chapter or division of a book.




Mark or design on paper made when the paper is in a pulp form. Incorporated in the wire mesh of the tray in which the pulp settles during the process of papermaking. Visible when held up to light. Specific for certain paper-mills and useful when determining localization and date of use.


Illustration printed from a block of wood. The design of a woodcut is produced by elimination, cutting away everything except the lines or shapes to be printed. This relief is inked and a piece of paper is pressed against it to create an image on the paper.


Studio (in French: atelier) in which a number of artists work together, generally under a master, either on regular or ad hoc basis. Also referring to a group of artists who work together. However, artists working on the same project need not necessarily have belonged to a workshop but might join together for a single commission. The term "workshop product" is used when art is in the style of a master, but is thought to have been executed by an assistant.


Small holes or channels in vellum or paper of a book left by a “bookworm”.



Zoo-anthropomorphic initial

Initial partly or wholly composed of conflated human and animal forms (see: initial St. Paul).

Zoomorphic initial

Initial partly or wholly composed of animal forms.




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