Between 1890 and 1945 an enormous number of manuscripts made before c.1600 changed hands. Some appeared at auction multiple times, while others were sold as part of complete libraries. Many manuscripts entered collections where they have since remained. These repositories included well-known libraries that bear their founders’ names, such as the Beatty, Folger, Huntington, Morgan, and Rylands libraries and the Gulbenkian Foundation, as well as “national” collections including the British Museum, KBR and the Bibliothèque Nationale.
The choices of the super-rich shaped their collections, but also dictated what was available to those with smaller purses, who had to settle for what the richest collectors did not want or find alternative means of obtaining books in an increasingly expensive and international market. At the same time, wealthy collectors, often advised by those working in museums, financed catalogues and studies of the works they owned, bringing them to greater public attention. This scholarship helped to shape attitudes to pre-modern books, which were categorised as art works, national literature, Shakespearean, historical documents (or some combination of these), depending on their contents and the context in which they were being described. The manuscripts were and are important source material for medieval and Renaissance history and culture, and early twentieth-century approaches to them have helped to shape both popular and scholarly attitudes to the Middle Ages.
This conference, which is organised by the Cultivate MSS project (funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 work programme) aims to bring together scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds to examine the trade in pre-modern manuscripts and its consequences.
For more information and to register see https://ies.sas.ac.uk/events/international-trade-pre-modern-manuscripts-1890-1945-and-making-middle-ages