Books for professional use
VCF 18 (Germany, 1575-1586): Albertus Magnus, De alchymia libellus (Booklet on Alchemy), paper, 391 fols., 310 x 200 mm, 1 col., various lines.

When and where a manuscript was written is not always known. The type of script is an important aid to help determine the production date. In some cases, scribes wrote down when they completed the manuscript or a portion of it. Here we see such notations at fols. 1r, 47r, 53v, 155v and 229v, which shows that the manuscript was written between 1575 and 1586. An outlier is encountered on fol. 225, where the scribe has written down “1546 23 Martii MAB” (MAB are the initials of the scribe Magister Abraham Behem). This particular date could easily have been copied by accident from the exemplar. This inconsistency in recorded dates is a good reminder that one should always be careful to not make automatic assumptions when interpreting a date in a manuscript.

This alchemical manuscript contains De alchymia libellus (Booklet on Alchemy), attributed to Albertus Magnus (c. 1200-1280). Magnus, a German bishop and scholar, wrote about many topics, including logic, theology, geography, astrology, and alchemy. The manuscript contains annotations and drawings of laboratory glassware and other chemical equipment that were created by readers. Fols. 152r - 154r contain lists of alchemical symbols (see also VCF 17). One of the readers also uses these symbols to annotate certain passages.

(Boeren, 1975, pp. 54-57)


  1. When the quires were filled with text, the rubrics were in place, and the scribe had corrected his work, it was time for the finishing touches. Many medieval books contain some kind of decoration in addition to the written words. What kind of decoration can you find in this manuscript? Give three examples.
  2. Even though they were often planned to remain empty, the margins of the page contain all sorts of information. Scribes added corrections or additional text, but more often it is readers who scribbled signs, words or even entire sentences in the margins. Focus on the margins of this manuscript and make a rough inventory of the marginal additions. What do they tell you about how the book was used, or who the reader was? Are there any that are obviously from the scribe?


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