Books for professional use
VCF 13 (Germany, 1575-1600): Tractatatulus de lapide philosophorum (Treatise on the philosopher's stone), paper, 453 fols., 310 x 196 mm, 1 col., 22-24 lines.

Manuscripts were often used by a variety of readers. The first reader of this manuscript, the person for whom the manuscript was produced, was Sebald Schwertzer (1552-1598), a German merchant and alchemist who worked at the court of Dresden. We know this because he wrote his name on fol. 57r. In the beginning of the seventeenth century this manuscript came into the possession of Christina, Queen of Sweden (1626-1689), who was an avid collector of manuscripts. The Dutch scholar Isaac Vossius (1618-1689), who worked as librarian at her court, helped the queen expand her collection, for which he received several manuscripts as payment. All the manuscripts in this theme whose signature starts with the letters VCF belonged to this collection.

This manuscript, which was copied by two different scribes, contains treatises on alchemy and medical recipes, and includes several letters. The name of the scribe who wrote fols. 1r - 166v is Hans Meissel, who also copied VCF 6, VCF 14 and VCF 21. The text on fols. 176r - 178v is about necromancy: a practice that teaches communication with the deceased as a means to foretell the future or discover hidden knowledge. Many people regarded necromancy as black magic and not as a real science.

(Boeren, 1975, pp. 42-45)


  1. Medieval scribes recognized that readers may need some help finding their way throughout the book or within the texts they contained. Over time, a number of tools were invented to this end. What type of reading-aids can you find in this manuscript? Give three examples.
  2. Book design was not only influenced by the manner in which the book would be used, but also by its contents. This is not surprising, of course, since contents and use are closely related: you generally use a book because of the texts it contains. Perform a modest online search about the text in this book and assess for what reason or reasons it was commonly used (education, church rituals, reference, professional use, etc.). Now try to relate the contents of the book to the material features it was given. Can you relate the two? Which material features you observe make sense now you know more about the text? Are there any that don’t?


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