Books for professional use
VCF 11 (Germany, 1590): Tractatus de Alchimia (Treatise on Alchemy), paper, 286 fols., 310 x 200 mm, 1 col., 22-24 lines.

The author of one of the texts in this manuscript describes a recipe while giving a warning to the reader not to reveal the contents of the recipe to anyone who is not educated in philosophy. These kinds of warnings were typical for alchemical treatises. Alchemists believed that their knowledge of natural objects and their properties could easily be misused by inexperienced people. That alchemists were cautious with spreading their ideas is understandable, since most alchemical treatises describe how base metals could be turned into noble metals like silver and gold.

This manuscript contains a variety of treatises on alchemy, often accompanied by practical recipes. Even though the treatises do not deal with religious subjects directly, the reader is often encouraged to give praise Jesus before he or she starts making a recipe. One of the owners has added annotations in the margin in red ink. Important passages are either pointed out with a manicula1 or by writing “nota” (note this!) in the margin. Unlike the notas in most medieval manuscripts, which were generally symbols, these nota marks are written in easily readable words. The single scribe who copied this manuscript often used symbols in the texts, such as the moon, sun, and gender symbols (see also VCF 17).

(Boeren, 1975, p. 38)


  1. While the medieval book was made out of sheets, it is the quire that is the object's building block. A quire is a small package of folded sheets usually made from bifolia. To create a bifolium, a sheet is folded in half (each half is called a 'folium', which consists of two 'pages', i.e. the front and back of the folium). How many bifolia were used in each quire of this manuscript? Clue: take a look at the catchwords in the lower margins.
  2. Manuscripts were made for specific purposes and how a manuscript was going to be used is often reflected by its material design. Can you infer for what purpose this book was made? How is your verdict reflected by the book’s material features?


  1. Boeren, P. C. (1975). Codices vossiani chymici. Universitaire Pers Leiden.