Friday, August 16, 2013

Artzneybüech -- a 16th Century Medical Book

Cataloging a manuscript is always a particular challenge. As a unique item each manuscript must be cataloged without help from an existing record. Several weeks ago a leather bound item with a metal clasp (one clasp was missing) was placed in my queue for cataloging. I thought it was a printed book because I didn’t think anyone could write script that precisely. It is book of medicines and recipes from the 16th century written in German handwriting. I checked all the usual sources—WorldCat, NUC pre-1956 imprints and even an bibliography of 16th Century German imprints, but found no matches or clues.

German spelling and handwriting was not standardized until the 20th century. This book is hard to read because I can’t interpret the script. I took it to the rare book librarian for help. She said this was a manuscript because no one could set type like that. We showed it to several German speakers and they could not read it. No listing of German manuscript has this item listed.

Title is: Artzneybüech (A physician’s book). Note the modern German spelling would be: Artzneibuch.  The large red words are legible and I can read them. The smaller black text is unreadable.

Here is a list of ingredients followed by directions.

I was unable to find any later printed copies of this text.

If anyone can help with more information I would appreciate it. Text in the upper left reads: Ein güeter wündtranct (A good wound dressing)

I was curious about the value of this item. It is written on vellum. In the 16th century vellum cost about 120 times paper. Vellum then as now was mainly used for special legal or religious documents or for artwork. The raw materials needed to write a copy of this book today would cost about $1200. I saw similar items from the 16th century offered for sale between $6000 and $50,000.

Working on identifying this item was fascinating because I had to learn about the history of German language and writing in the 16th century, however it was frustrating because I do not yet have the final answers.

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