Iron Gall Ink

By: Katie Hartman Besides the quill and parchment, ink was one of the most basic components of manuscript production.  Black inks were typically produced either from collecting soot (most common in Asia) or from oak galls (most common in Europe). Oak galls are growths that are formed around the larva of the gall wasp.  The […]

Making Quills Part 3—Cutting the Quill

By: Katie Hartman Cutting the quill’s nib is often seen as the most finicky and difficult part of the quill making process.  In a way, this assumption is both true and false.  Cutting a quill nib takes practice and some getting used to, especially if you’re nervous handling a knife or razor blade.  But, once […]

Making Quills Part 2- Curing with a Dutching Tool

By: Katie Hartman Technically speaking, dutching simply refers to the process of hardening a quill by using heat.  However, since the process of using a dutching tool differs greatly from the other methods discussed in part 1, it is useful to refer to the process of using a dutching tool as dutching and the process […]

Making Quills Part 1: Curing

by Katie Hartman Quills are part of the basic materials needed to create a medieval manuscript. Their use and creation were a basic part of the scribe’s daily work and the quill is usually regarded to be the symbol of the scribal trade.  Typically, medieval quills were taken from geese or swans. The best feathers for […]

Adventures in Cataloging: Arabic Manuscripts at RBML

In the cold rooms of the stacks, I walk through the smell of centuries-old books  As I scan the shelves, I notice a stack of books untouched, with white tags protruding from the covers. Some are wrapped with cloth strings and cardboard; others barely attached to their spines. The white tags all with the same […]

“A League of Their Own” Typescript

With the World Series in full swing it’s a good time to take a look at one of the many interesting baseball holdings in the collection: the first draft of the typescript for the 1992 movie A League of Their Own directed by Penny Marshal. This typescript, pictured below, was written in 1989 by Lowell […]

No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

In mid-November, No Blue Memories premiered at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. The paper puppet show, performed by Manual Cinema, focused on the life of Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. The show was written by Dr. Eve. L. Ewing and Nate Marshall, featured live music by Ayanna and Jamila […]

The Double Life of the Letter “U”

The letter “u” is a workhorse of the alphabet. It occurs so frequently that it will earn you only one point in Scrabble. Even so, it flies under the radar, escaping our notice. Now, texting threatens to elevate it to a pronoun. Have we underestimated this unassuming letter? The time has come for a closer […]

Shakespeare’s Scribe and Skull & Cross Bones?

While we were improving the minimal cataloging of our medieval and early modern manuscript holdings, we came across a hand-written copy of one of the earliest specialized English Dictionaries, Henry Manwayring’s Seaman’s Dictionary.  Since our library boasts an amazing collection of early English dictionaries, we were not overly surprised.  It is always pleasant to see […]

Victorian Scrapbooks Rediscovered

Here at The Rare Book & Manuscript Library, seemingly simple reference questions often turn into much deeper discoveries.That was the case when a patron enquired about our material concerning one Martin F. Tupper. If you aren’t familiar with Martin F. Tupper (1810-1889), then you probably didn’t live in the mid-19th century; if you did, you likely […]