The Digitisation of Pepys’s ‘Calligraphicall’ Fragments

We are pleased to announce the digitisation of Samuel Pepys’s collection of medieval manuscript and early printed book fragments.  The images and catalogue descriptions of the fragments are now available on the project website – the leading online repository in this area of study.  The digitisation of these fragments was generously funded by a Cambridge Digital Humanities ‘Digital Resources award’. To view the whole collection, please follow this link.

A medieval manuscript fragment from Pepys’s ‘Calligraphicall’ collection: Statute caps *=III of I Henry VI. From the first half of the 15th century.

The Pepys Library holds a number of manuscript and printed book fragments which were deliberately collected and arranged by Samuel Pepys into his ‘Calligraphicall Collection’ albums.  The albums were compiled by Pepys in 1700 with added commentary by his associate Humfrey Wanley, a palaeographer and librarian.  The appearance of the album is much like a scrapbook, and the fragments are arranged in a chronological order to demonstrate the development of handwriting – a shared interest of Pepys and Wanley’s. 

There was an appetite for collecting and studying fragments amongst 17th century connoisseurs.  John Bagford, Pepys’s bookseller, collected and traded manuscript fragments, and supplied Wanley and Hans Sloane with such items.  Although there is no surviving correspondence between Pepys and Bagford about the fragments, however, a letter from Wanley to Pepys dated to 1699 suggests strongly that Bagford was the original source of Pepys’s collection: ‘I suppose, Sir, you had them of Mr. Bagford; from whom likewise I have received some hundreds of such pieces and leaves’[1]

The creation of each online record was undertaken by Pepys Library staff, owing much to Prof. Rosamond McKitterick and Joyce Irene Whalley, the compilers of the printed catalogue of the calligraphy albums published in 1989.  Thanks to technological advances since the McKitterick and Whalley catalogue was published, Pepys Library staff have also been able to identify some of the printed book fragments by comparing them to digitised copies of books already online.  These new identifications are included in the Fragmentarium online records, of which one example is a decorated fragment from an Italian early printed book (Gentilis Fulgina’s Super tertio libro Canonis Avicennae, printed in Padua in 1477).

The digitisation of Pepys’s collection is not only of benefit for those in academia, but it also offers those with a general interest in the Pepys Library the opportunity to view this collection online for the first time.  This considered arrangement of fragments into an album by Pepys and Wanley offers a new scholarly perspective in the study of ‘fragmentology’, where so often examples of fragments appear as the result of the recycling of manuscripts for use in bookbinding or are stored loose in boxes awaiting further study.

By Catherine Sutherland

Special Collections Librarian

[1] Ellis, Henry (ed). Original Letters of Eminent Literary Men of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries. London: Camden Society, 1843,  p.275.

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