Assembly

The sheets of vellum were assembled in groups, called quires or gatherings. Most quires in the Vernon manuscript are comprised of four sheets, so that each quire has eight leaves (folios) and sixteen pages. The sheets were numbered to ensure that they would be assembled in the correct order. Traces of these numbers (‘bifolium signatures’) can be seen on the bottom right-hand corners of the left halves of the sheets.

There are fifty-three quires in the manuscript. Often, texts take up several quires. It was important therefore that the quires were assembled in the correct order. Two methods were used to ensure that they were assembled correctly. The first word or two of the first line of text on the first page of a quire was also copied on the last page of the previous quire in lines ruled specially for the purpose below the column of text. The correct order of quires could be checked by ensuring that the ‘catchword’ matched the text at the beginning of the next quire.

The order in which the quires should be assembled was signalled by the use of small letters in sequences based on alphabetical order. These ‘quire signatures’ were placed near the bifolium signatures. Other traces of the assembly process include an informal note about the final quire.

The manuscript comprises six parts with varying numbers of quires. The number of parts and their order may not have been decided until late in the production process and there are signs of changes of plan. The decoration of the first page of the third part is appropriate for the opening page of a book. Possibly at one stage this part was expected to come first in the volume. The first quire does not fit properly into the sequence of quire signatures and must have been a late addition. The last quire was also a late addition. The informal note about the last quire is actually followed by two quires, not one.

Despite the care taken to keep sheets and quires in order, mistakes were made and had to be corrected. One sheet was folded the wrong way and had to be re-folded. Two pairs of four leaves were mistakenly swapped. Both errors were spotted and corrected before the quires were sewn and bound.

 

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