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  • Writer's pictureSilvia Hufnagel

Quire structures, watermarks and manuscript production

An important part of Life of Paper is the analysis of quire structures* in combination with watermark analysis and textual contents of manuscripts in order to examine possible connections to paper use.

Reykjavík, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies AM 426 fol.: tail with spine and the bottom of fol. 3r visible, including a quire signature
Reykjavík, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies AM 426 fol.

We hope that we can establish if texts in multi-text-manuscripts were written on the same or different paper, if scribes had large or small paper stocks and if there are regional differences in paper use in Iceland. We also hope to establish how individual manuscripts were made. For example, did scribes write each text on separate quires and compile them then into manuscripts, perhaps filling up blank leaves with shorter texts later on, or did they write multiple texts in a premeditated order on previously prepared quires?

For some manuscripts, and even scribes, this can be a rather simple task. Jón Erlendsson í Villingaholti (d. 1672), for example, was a particularly prolific scribe who is well known for his two copies of Íslendingabók (Book of Icelanders, Reykjavík, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies AM 113 a and b fol.). His manuscripts tend to have very regular quire structures: Jón often used quaternios (four bifoliums in a quire) or quinternios (five bifoliums). Most of the manuscripts contain only one or two different watermarks, giving the impression that Jón had sufficient paper stocks and that he copied manuscripts following a clear plan.

Other manuscripts are more difficult to analyse, not least because of later interventions and repairs. Reykjavík, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies AM 426 fol. (1670-82), is a particularly difficult case. The patron of the manuscript, Magnús Jónsson í Vigur, added a title page and three paintings to the already finished manuscript; in the 1770s the manuscript was rebound, including cutting off the first 20 leaves at the spine and joining these single leaves into new bifoliums—different from original bifoliums. Due to heavy repairs in the last century, the original quire structure of some leaves is still uncertain. Hopefully the help of our wonderful conservator at the Árni Magnússon Institute will clear the last questions! Stay tuned for updates!

Further reading:

Helgi Ívarsson. "Sr. Jón Erlendsson handritaskrifari í Villingaholti." Árnesingur 8 (2007): 157-170.

McDonald Werronen, Sheryl. "The Working Practices of Magnús Ketilsson: An Icelandic Scribe at the End of the Seventeenth Century." Scandinavian Studies 92 (2020): 39-61.

Ligatus Language of Bindings,

Springborg, Peter. "Antiqvæ Historia Lepore: Om renæssancen i den islandske håndskriftsproduktion i 1600-tallet." Gardar 8 (1977): 53-89.

*Quires, or gatherings, are sheets of paper or parchment that are folded into the desired format and then sewn together at the spine (see “gathering” in the Ligatus Language of Bindings, Many manuscript quires contain eight leaves, or four bifoliums (a so-called quaternio), but quires of printed books often contain a single folded sheet.


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