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A Material History of 16th and 17th Century Icelandic Books from Paper Production to
Library Collection

Paper history
Book history

In this project we analysed the paths of paper from its production on the European continent via the processes of writing and printing books in Iceland back to their present places of collections abroad.

We analysed watermarks of Icelandic paper, as well as the transmission of printed books produced in Iceland during the 16th and 17th centuries. Special attention wais also payed to Icelandic bindings of printed books of the period.

We focused on

a) manuscripts produced in the 16th century and manuscripts in folio-format from the 17th century, as well as charters from both 16th and 17th centuries (paper history),

b) the book collections initiated by Sir Joseph Banks and Heinrich Erkes, today kept in libraries in London and Cologne (book history),


c) manuscripts that are connected to the family of Séra Jón Arason frá Vatnsfirði (Vatnsfjörður-manuscripts).

Our theoretical background was deeply rooted in material philology, object biography and paper history. We hope to contribute towards manuscript and book history, history of objects and collections, social and economic history and material philology.

The project ran from 1 April 2018 until 31 March 2021 and was funded by the Icelandic Research Fund under the grant number 184961-051. The watermark imaging with a hyperspectral camera was funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung.

PAPER HISTORY: Paper Trails to Iceland

Silvia Hufnagel

In this part of the project our focus was on the actual production and sale of paper to Iceland during the 16th and 17th centuries. Our research questions were:

- Where and when was the paper produced?
- Who sold and transported it to Iceland and who bought or ordered it in Iceland?
- Were different kinds of paper used for different purposes?
- Are there differences in the systems of purchasing and transporting paper between official and private citizens of Iceland?
- Are there correlations between textual genre and paper quality?

To find answers to these questions, we analysed watermarks in paper of books, manuscripts and charters, the quality of said paper, biographical and socio-economic information on scribes, patrons and merchants, as well as official documents, official and private correspondence and information on trade, such as ledgers and customs books.


Material philology, paper history, trade history, watermark research

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BOOK HISTORY: Paper Trails from Iceland

Regina Jucknies

In this part of our project our focus was on the paths that Icelandic books and manuscripts took once they left the island. We analysed:

- Who were the owners and users of the books in Iceland? Are there traces of multiple ownership?
- Who were the agents involved in the acquisition and circulation of books?
- Which aspects influence the acquisition and circulation, as well as the parameters of collection? Is it rather institutional, economic or private relations? What was the motivation to build up an Icelandic collection abroad and bequeath it to an institution?

- Who did the later binding of the books that were initially sold unbound? 

To find answers to these questions, we analysed ownership statements, marginalia, bindings and later additions to the bindings, as well as fragments contained in the books and manuscripts, auction catalogues, official and private correspondance of owners, etc. The collections of Sir Joseph Banks (1742-1820), now at the British Library in London, and Heinrich Erkes (1864-1932), now at the University Library of Cologne, served as examples of important Islandica collections on the continent.


Object history, material philology, collection history, bindings

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Þórunn Sigurðardóttir

In this part of the project we will analyse the watermarks of manuscripts connected to the family of Séra Jón Arason (1606-1673) frá Vatnsfirði in the Westfjords. Several family members played an important role in post-medieval Icelandic manuscript culture, most notably Magnús Jónsson (1637-1702) í Vigur. Today, there are c. 30 manuscripts extant that are connected to members of the Vatnsfjörður-family. The connection to the family is clear with some manuscripts, however, with others their connection is uncertain. It is our aim to compare the watermarks of manuscripts with uncertain connections with the watermarks of manuscripts with proven connections. Thus, we hope that we can either prove or refute the ties with the Vatnsfjörður-family.


Manuscript culture, paper history, watermark research.

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Vatnsfjörður mss
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