Manuscripts and Special Collections
   
   
  

Glossary

The following list is not exhaustive. A more extensive glossary of terms used in the description of illuminated manuscripts is available on the British Library website. 

 Term Definition 
Bar border Solid decorative border extending around three or four sides of the writing space in a manuscript 
Bifolium Folded sheet of paper forming two folios
Blind stamping Method of pressing or embossing a design onto leather using unheated metal tools. Called ‘blind’ because no inks or colours are used
Border

Design drawn around the writing space in a manuscript

Catchword

The first word of the following page on a new quire, written at the bottom of the preceding page to assist in gathering the quires accurately for binding

Codex Manuscript volume, made of leaves (folios) sewn together and bound with a cover
Collation The action of arranging a number of quires or gatherings into book form; also the technical description or statement of how gatherings are arranged in the book
Composite manuscript Bound manuscript made up of separate manuscripts not originally intended to be gathered together
Exemplar A version of a text used as the basis for another copy, written out by a scribe
Flesh side The side of a sheet of vellum or parchment which had been the inside of the animal skin
Flourish Decorative feature on a manuscript page, drawn with pen and ink
Fly-leaf Blank sheet of parchment or paper placed immediately inside the binding and before the main text of a manuscript
Folio One leaf of a manuscript volume, with both the front (recto) and back (verso) sides available as writing spaces; also the size of page formed by folding a standard sheet of parchment or paper once, bigger than quarto or octavo
Gathering A number of folios, placed on top of each other, with a fold in the middle, forming a booklet. The same as quire
Guide-letters Small letters written by the scribe to let the illuminator know which letter to draw as a decorated initial
Hair side The side of a sheet of vellum or parchment which had been the outside of the animal skin; sometimes the hair follicles can still be seen
Hide Animal skin, which is treated and prepared to make a sheet of parchment or vellum
Historiated initial An initial that includes a depiction of a recognisable individual or narrative scene
Illuminated manuscript A manuscript decorated with gold, silver or precious metals
Illuminator An artist who creates illustrations, including initials and flourishes, in a manuscript. Sometimes known as a ‘limner’
Inhabited initial An initial that includes a depiction of an unknown human or an animal, in contrast to an historiated initial
Initial A letter which has been written, drawn or painted larger or more ornately than other letters, to introduce a new sentence or passage of text
Lombard Rounded capital letter in red or blue ink, sometimes filled in decoratively
Miniature An illustration within a text, presented on its own and not part of a decorative initial
Octavo Size of page formed by folding a standard sheet of parchment or paper three times; smaller than folio or quarto size
Parchment Writing surface made by treating and preparing animal hide, usually made from sheep or goat skin
Paste-down A piece of parchment or paper stuck with glue to the inside of a binding to provide extra strength
Prickings Small holes made by the scribe at regular intervals along the edge of a leaf, used as guides for ruling
Quarto Size of page formed by folding a standard sheet of parchment or paper twice; smaller than folio but bigger than octavo size 
Quill Ink pen made from the hollow shaft of a feather
Quire A number of folios, placed on top of each other, with a fold in the middle, forming a booklet. The same as gathering
Recto The first side of a folio
Rubrication The act of highlighting a particular part of a text by using red ink
Scribe The person who copied a text
Spine The edge of a book, where the central folds of the various quires or gatherings placed on top of each other join
Vellum Writing surface made by treating and preparing a superior-quality animal hide, often made from the skin of young lambs or kids
Verso The second (reverse) side of a folio
Watermark Impression within a sheet of paper, visible by holding the paper up to a light, made by placing a metal design inside the paper pulp mould 

 

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Manuscripts and Special Collections

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Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

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