Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

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BrendanGrif
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Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by BrendanGrif »

Hi,
I am looking for information on how much it would have cost to commission a manuscript during the early medieval period...actually any medieval period would be good
I have seen references indicating that scripts were priced differently and know that different grades of parchment/vellum cost differing amounts.

Does anyone know of a reference book that contains this information?

Brendan

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John Waller
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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

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gregory23b
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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by gregory23b »

British Museum Medieval Craftsmen Series, 'Scribes and Illuminators - Christopher Duhamel.

Mentions prices per sheet or parchment plus rates per day.

You would be advised to read up some of the paston letters as at least one mentions the cost by a secretary to draft and write up indentures.

It will vary from time to time and place to place, by the page or by the gathering, by the text etc.
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Brother Ranulf
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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by Brother Ranulf »

If you mean by "early medieval" the 11th and 12th centuries, manuscripts were almost always produced in the monasteries, and for the monasteries. Accounts, court records, land deeds and so on were produced by clerks (clerics) working for a specific employer such as the king - they were paid to do their job, not paid per manuscript. In that sense, they cost nothing.

It is only towards the 13th century that manuscripts began to be produced outside the monasteries on a commercial basis and ordinary lay people paid for the work like they would pay for furniture.
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Brother Ranulf
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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by Brother Ranulf »

Gregory23b is right about later pricing, which was always based on what style of lettering and decoration was involved (as well as the quality of the materials).

As an example:

"In 1420 the Parish Church of St Martin in Vitre (diocese of Rennes) contracted with Raoul de Cerisay, a priest, to produce within eighteen months a missal and a psalter on good vellum, featuring a dozen large letters with flourishing and numerous smaller coloured initials in azure and vermilion. As a model, the parish church lent him 'le viel messel' to use as an 'exemplaire a escripre' for the new one. In payment, Raoul de Cerisay would receive 80 livres, half in advance and half on delivery, as well as 30 sous for bread and wine. The missal and psalter that he promised to write and illuminate have yet to be identified."
Brother Ranulf

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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by BrendanGrif »

The medieval prices link is cool and answers some questions I had - just not the one I am trying to figure out now!
I have the Medieval Craftsmen book, I guess I should read it properly :$ - that is certainly where I got the idea that the pricing models existed, but hadnt remembered that the detail was there.
The 1420 example is exactly the sort of information that I am looking for.

In terms of the earlier time period I know that it was mostly monasteries doing the work. Where I a may be making an error in judgement is in assuming that while the monasteries were wealthy, a reasonable amount of manuscripts were produced 'sponsored' (for want of correct word) by nobles etc.
If the assumption is true then it suggests that there must have been a method (however informal) of deciding the overall design etc - or am I way off here?

Brendan

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Brother Ranulf
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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by Brother Ranulf »

Brendan, the whole issue of sponsors and donors to the 12th century monasteries (the period of their immense growth and greatest influence) is a very interesting one, and something that really hasn't been explored enough. I don't know of any published work on the subject, perhaps someone should consider taking it on as a gap in the market - publishers usually jump at anything that hasn't been done before. Maybe I will take on the project myself after my current work is complete.

In general terms, donors made gifts of land (sometimes complete with tenants), money, valuables such as candlesticks or resources such as woodland or water rights. What the monastery did with any cash donations was left up to them - this may have been used to buy materials for book production, but it could equally have been applied to new building work or repairs. As far as i can discover, payment was not generally earmarked for a specific manuscript to be produced - although on rare occasions manuscripts were either loaned or given to wealthy or influential patrons.

Out of around 50 manuscripts from this period that I have studied in depth (and many more I have looked at in less detail), only a very few have links with anyone outside the monastery.

The St Albans Psalter is sometimes (inaccurately) said to have been produced for Christina of Markyate; careful analysis of its content and symbolism shows that it was initially intended as just another monastic book, the idea of it being presented to Christina only becoming apparent during the course of the work. No payment of any kind was involved, it was simply a gift.

As for the design of books, a number of factors were involved:

1) Books were often an updated version of an earlier manuscript, taking their general design from the earlier work.

2) Each monastery had its own traditional style - books produced in Canterbury have specific traditional detail and stylistic differences from those produced at the same time in Durham or York, say.

3) The content of a book was usually tailored to a specific location - feast days and saints would be those celebrated locally. In the case of the St Albans Psalter, part-way through the book a number of references to saints and stories of relevance to Christina herself begin to be included.

4) Scribes were not governed by a nationwide code of practice - very often they used their own imagination and ideas from their surroundings, particularly in decorating initials. Within the bounds of decency and religious doctrine they could do pretty much as they liked. In terms of handwriting, each man wrote in a slightly different style, so it is possible to distinguish between the work of two or more scribes in the same manuscript.
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Colin Middleton
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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by Colin Middleton »

Brother Ranulf wrote:Raoul de Cerisay would receive 80 livres, half in advance and half on delivery, as well as 30 sous for bread and wine.
Okay, livres are pounds (240 d), but how much is a sous worth?
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Brother Ranulf
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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by Brother Ranulf »

It's very difficult to give approximate values to medieval coins, not least because certain items for sale had far less monetary value then than they do now, while for other things the reverse is true. There can be no universal multiplier to give an exact modern equivalent.

In theory, a sou was roughly the same as 12 English pennies, or a shilling - but the modern value is open to debate.
Brother Ranulf

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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by gregory23b »

"but the modern value is open to debate."

Not to mention changes in actual values at the time and other things like debased coinage, local pricing etc.
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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by BrendanGrif »

Thanks for the detailed response, would have thanked sooner but my head slightly melted

Anyway, you have shown me that an assumption I made was wrong (which is great) so I now need to go back a step and look at that whole thing again.

On a tangent, I know that the Early Irish (where I am from) monastic model was a bit different (Though nowhere near as different as many would like to believe) so will try and chase down some sources on it locally. If I find information on that I will let you know!...As an aside on that specific one, if you have seen any of the publicity on the Book of Kells you will see that they assert that Lapis Lazuli was used for the blue. Funny thing is I was at a public lecture in Trinity College (Custodians of the document) where it was fairly definitively proven that the pigment used was Indigo. Despite this the information given to the public still goes with the better story.

Thanks again for your help

Brendan

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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

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"Funny thing is I was at a public lecture in Trinity College (Custodians of the document) where it was fairly definitively proven that the pigment used was Indigo. Despite this the information given to the public still goes with the better story."

They are makredly different pigments and can be readily identified as one or the other, odd that they persist with the one story.
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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by BrendanGrif »

well, judging by the faces of some of the professorial types who were at the lecture the news was unwelcome...and arts rather than science probably control that part of the library

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Re: Medieval Manuscripts - how much did they cost

Post by BrendanGrif »

OK, I have an update on some of this in the Irish context.

I was recently at a talk in the National libary of Ireland where one of the speakers (Professor Pádraig Ó Macháin, Gaelic Manuscript Production in the Early Modern Period (1300-1600)) Indicated the following about MS production in Ireland in the late medieval/Early Modern Period:
~ Very little evidence of patronage
~ Where patronage does exist it is not in the form of person A) pays person B) to provide a book
~ The majority of MS were prepared by individuals either for their own use or as gifts to others.
~ Most scribes in Ireland at this time were people whose main occupation was doing something else (legal, medical etc)
There was a bunch of other stuff but that was some of the stuff most relevant to my original question

thanks again for the help

Brendan

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