THE HISTORY OF WESTERN SCRIPT: PART TWO

Sixty-one manuscripts from Schøyen Collection are to be auctioned on 10 July 2019, with the auction catalogue providing the second textbook reference of Western writing for students and scholars from the largest and most comprehensive collection of manuscripts consciously assembled to represent the history of the written word. Christies July2019 covers Page 1 300x381

Spreading and deepening knowledge of his collections has always been one of Dr Martin Schøyen’s objectives: both in employing researchers to catalogue his holdings and in making them available to any serious scholar or interested party. To date, 34 printed scholarly catalogues of entire sections have been published in the Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection series (MSC).

The auction catalogue states: “The importance of the materials in The Schøyen Collection goes far beyond the scope of a private collection, or even a national public collection. It is one of the most extensive and wide-ranging ever assembled, rivalling even that of the great ‘vello-maniac’ antiquary and book collector Sir Thomas Phillipps.

“No auction catalogue has ever before attempted to tell the history of script over almost five millennia of human civilization. The 61 lots on offer are only a microcosm of the Schøyen Collection as a whole, but they provide an exceptional oversight of the development of writing in the West from 3100 B.C. to the 18th century, including a proto-cuneiform clay tablet of the late Uruk period, 3100 B.C. (lot 401), an exceptional witness of centuries of Babylonian royal dynastic rule (The Ur-Isin King list, Isin, 1813-1812 B.C., lot 402), Greek and Roman curse tablets, Greek literary papyri, a Roman military diploma, and exceptional examples of classical uncial, Visigothic, Beneventan, Alemanic and Caroline minuscule.”

Other manuscripts in the catalogue include some of the oldest manuscripts of the Bible in Hebrew (lots 409-10) and in Latin (lot 415), one of the earliest examples of Georgian script, the palaeography album of an 18th-century archivist (full of cuttings from manuscripts once at Toul Cathedral, lot 459), and Dr Schøyen’s insuperable collection of medieval seal matrices (lot 461), which includes a national treasure: the Anglo-Saxon walrus ivory seal matrix of Wulfric (lot 460).

Dr Schøyen said: “I hope this catalogue will serve as a useful palaeographical reference tool in future, used in conjunction with the catalogue of another portion of his collection, sold at Sotheby’s on 10 July 2012. In addition, the manuscripts in this auction that are featured on the website will continue to be available for scholarly reference online.”

Like the catalogue for the 2012 auction, the leaves are presented in chronological order and by ‘school’, with a detail of select items, chosen to illustrate each script’s distinctive letter-forms and abbreviations, accompanied by a transcription.

Christie’s The History of Western Scripts is available for purchase.