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Personal Copy Book Class Handout

By Elizabeth de Nevell

What form did copy books exist in the Middle Ages?

  • Model Book – For students 

Detailed instruction on how to create illuminated elements such as the Gottingten Model Book. It helped the scribal apprentices learn the basis of design before being expected to create original pieces on their own. 

  • Pattern Book - For Patrons & Artists

This book of designs could be shown to wealthy patrons so that they could chose the motifs which would then be placed into their manuscripts. This helped the patron choose the stationer with which he wanted to work, and gave the artists a solid point of reference in what was expected of them

  • Master’s Poster – For Patrons & Artists 

A version of the pattern book that would hang on the wall in the scriptorium, or sometimes be used as an advertisement to attract students to a writing master. 

  • Commonplace Book – For anyone  Date: 1578 : a book of memorabilia

Many people from all walks of life kept commonplace books. They would contain tidbits of information, quotes, recipes and knowledge passed on to them by others. Frequently in these books you can find formal alphabets, and capital design for personal use.

  •  Copybook - Date 16th Century; Especially a book that contains models of handwriting or style that learners can study and copy.

  How can these tools help you as an SCA scribe?

  •  Time Management - In using elements that you are familiar with you have a better sense of how long a piece will take, and by having these elements in one place it saves you the time of searching through your library for the example or documentation. 

  •  Convenience - Rather than carrying around a bulky Portfolio all the time, a small personal copybook will allow you to carry examples of your work along with you in a more convenient manner. 

 Ideas for your Copybook

  • Lombardic Capitals – Frequently found from the 11th – 16th centuries used on their own as versals, decorated with filigree, whitework, and historated by miniatures. Keeping a set of these in your copybook gives you a sound foundation to a wide variety of designs. 

  • Gothic Alphabet 

  • Filigree Work – from Bess’ personal copybook, drawn from period examples. 

  • Calligraphic Alphabets 

  • Whitework Examples 

  • Illumination elements from period resources 

  • Personal Sketches from Nature 

  • Production Notes 

  • Documentation Notes 

  Recommended Reading

  •  "Exemplum" by Robert W. Scheller, Published by Amsterdam University Press, 1995. ISBN: 90-336-30-7 

  • "French Painting in the time of Jean de Berry" by Millard Meiss, Published by George Braziller,1974 ISBN: 0-8076-0734-7 

  • "Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work," by Jonathan J.G. Alexander, Published by Yale University Press in 1992, ISBN: 0-300-05689-3. 


  1. The Oxford Companion to the English Language, © Tom McArthur 1992

  2. http://www.xrefer.com/entry.jsp?xrefid=441627 accessed November 2002

  3. Drogin, Marc; "Medieval calligraphy It’s History and Technique"; Dover Publications, New York, 1980

  4. Harris, David; "The Art of Calligraphy"; CK Publishing Inc., New York, 1995


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