Some of our LRBS tutors have put together a quiz, drawing inspiration for the questions from their course content. The quiz will run over the three weeks of LRBS. See Rounds 1, 2, 3 and 4 below! 

Round 5 - Terminology Quiz 

Round 5 has been put together by LRBS tutor Michelle Brown, using material from The Medieval Book course. Have a go at this terminology challenge! Click the image to download the pdf file and print off if you'd like to.

Download Round 5 Answer Sheet

Round 1 - Provenance in Books

Dr David Pearson, one of the longest-standing tutors on the London Rare Books School, has put together a short quiz built around his popular course Provenance in Books.

Provenance is concerned with evidence about the ownership and use of books. Marks of ownership take many different forms. Take a look at Image 1 below. What kind of ownership marking is this? What could you say about it? What date would you guess it to be?

Bookplates are a very common mark of ownership. Take a look at Image 2 below. Like many gentry families in the early modern period, the Littletons of Pillaton Hall, Staffordshire were well endowed with land, but short on imagination when it came to naming children. Sir Edward Littleton, 1st baronet (ca.1599-ca.1657) was succeeded by Sir Edward Littleton, 2nd bart (ca.1632-1709), who was followed by Sir Edward Littleton, 3rd bart (d.1742), succeeded in turn by Sir Edward Littleton, 4th bart (ca.1727-1812).

Which of these men commissioned this bookplate, and what is it about the plate that lets you know?


Image 1

This is a stencil – a way of marking ownership that looks rather like an ink stamp, but the breaks in the inked outline give away the stencil technique. Stencils like this were in vogue among British book owners around the end of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century – so a date guess around there is the right answer. The owner was Thomas Ruggles (1745-1815), of Essex, barrister and author (you can look him up in ODNB) – his name goes round the rim, TRUGGLES.

The other thing that can immediately be said about this mark is that it’s heraldic, it incorporates part of Ruggles’s coat of arms – the giveaway here is the row of curved lines at the base of the tower, which represents a torse, the band of twisted cloth on which a heraldic crest sits. Crests turn up a lot in book ownership markings, on bindings, on bookplates, and elsewhere; whenever you see one, it tells you there’s an owner’s name to identify. Ruggles helpfully included his name here – if not, you would need to work out that you were looking at ‘A tower or [i.e. gold] flames rising from the top proper behind the tower four arrows in saltire argent [silver]’. Which you can just about see, in the stencil.

To read further about stencils and heraldry see David Pearson, Provenance research in book history: a handbook (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2019).

Image 2

One of the really useful things about eighteenth and nineteenth century bookplates is that they usually conform to ornamental designs which were regularly moving in and out of fashion, so that they can be dated, on stylistic grounds alone, within a few decades. This plate is clearly in the style called Jacobean – the frame surrounding the shield looks rather like carved woodwork, and the scallop-shell at the base is a very common decorative motif often found at this time. These designs began to appear in the first decade of the eighteenth century, but their heyday was ca.1720-45.

We can be pretty sure, therefore, that this is the bookplate of the 3rd baronet (d.1742). The first baronet would have been very unlikely to use a bookplate, as their use is uncommon in England before the 1680s. If the 2nd baronet had used a plate, it would almost certainly have been in Early Armorial style, and the 4th baronet would probably have had a Spade Shield; they would have used the same coat of arms, but the shape and design would have been distinctively different.

To read further on these topics, see David Pearson, Provenance research in book history, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2019), chapter 3; Brian North Lee, British bookplates: a pictorial history, Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1979).


Round 2 - English Bookbinding Styles

Dr David Pearson has kindly put together another of his short quiz questions, this time built around his course English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1850 

Take a look at Image 1. What can you say about this binding and what it can tell you about the book’s history – immediately, without opening the book?

When, approximately, do you think the binding in Image 2 was made?


Round 2 Answers

Image 1

It looks, from the photo, that the book is covered in a dark brown sprinkled/mottled tanned calfskin – the most commonly used binding leather in Britain. You’d want the book in your hand to feel it and look at the grain, to confirm, you’d be right if you guessed this.

The pattern of blind lines on the cover, simple though it is, is very typical of plain, straightforward English binding work of the middles decades of the seventeenth century, so you can be sure that it’s pretty much contemporary with the imprint date of the book (1679)

The different leather colours and the visible break in the leather make it clear that this has been rebacked, a very common binding repair operation (because the spine joints fail). The repair is clearly much later than the rest of the binding, based on the look of the lettering and labelling, and is twentieth century

The book has belonged to an aristocratic owner, who has had his armorial stamp gilt-tooled in the centre. These could be tooled on at any time, but this looks (and is) more or less contemporary with the binding. It includes a coronet of rank at the top (five strawberry leaves, telling you it was a Duke), and a crest in the middle (the row immediately below the heart represents a torse, the band of twisted cloth on which a heraldic crest sits). Below that is a monogram, incorporating some of the letters of the owner’s name in a rather tortured interlocking way. These kinds of designs were irritatingly popular, and are regularly encountered in provenance work. Fortunately, the Armorials Database tells us that this is William Douglas, 1st Duke of Queensberry (1637-95).  

For further reading, see David Pearson, English bookbinding styles, 1450-1800 (New Castle, 2014), and the Armorials Database <>


Image 2

This is a late sixteenth-century English centrepiece binding, of a type and style that was very much in vogue in the last quarter of the sixteenth century and the first quarter of the seventeenth. They are characterised by the large, single central tools of intricate, symmetrical design (sometimes called arabesque, reflecting the Islamic origins of the ornamental idea). Many decorative designs on bindings, in later centuries, rely on central ornaments but they are often made up with lots of smaller tools rather than a single one.

For extra points, you could observe that the very dark brown tanned calfskin is also very typical of this time, as is the perimeter tooling of three blind lines, quite coarse, with the central line thicker than the surrounding ones. You could note the prominent raised bands on the spine, reflecting the underlying structure (it’s sewn on tanned leather supports), and the blind hatching at head and foot, again a common decorative scheme around this time.  You could observe that it originally had two cloth ties across the fore-edge, as witnessed by the two little holes (the ties themselves are long since lost, as is commonly the case).

For a gold star, you could go on to say that this was bound in Oxford, ca.1570-85; the centrepiece tool is recorded as being in use there at that time. The imprint date of the book is 1555 (a Lyons-printed edition of the annotations on Livy by Beatus Rhenanus), so we may note that the binding isn’t directly contemporary, but a couple of decades later. Whether it circulated for the first 20 years of its life in cheaper paper or parchment wrappers, or was languishing unsold somewhere, we can only speculate.

For further reading see David Pearson, English bookbinding styles, 1450-1800, New Castle, 2014), and David Pearson, Oxford bookbinding 1500-1640 (Oxford, 2000).


Round 3 - The Medieval Book


This week Dr Cynthia Johnston, Course Tutor on the MA programme in the History of the Book and the London Rare Books School, poses a question that should interest students on our various courses devoted to the Medieval Book. 


Hart_21001_014 (copyright Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery)


Both of these images are from the same illuminated late medieval text. Can you identify what sort of book these images would have appeared in? What parts of the book would have contained these different types of images? Can you date the manuscript and explain the reasoning behind your suggestion?

Round 3 Answers

Both images are from a popular type of late medieval book known as a Psalter, or a book of the Psalms from the Old Testament of the Latin Vulgate Christian Bible. Psalters preceded Books of Hours in terms of popularity with the laity, and they represent some of the first books produced specifically at the request of those outside monastic communities for use in secular life beyond the cloisters.

Image 1 is a rather graphic exposition of the Ascension of Christ (Asceniso Iesu) to heaven. In this representation, the Virgin and the Apostles gaze upward, their slightly upraised hands suspended in amazement, as they observe Christ’s ascent. Only his feet are visible as he departs the realm of earth. This image is part of a sequence of illuminations that illustrate the life of Christ, known as a Christological sequence. The sequences were intended for private contemplation, and they traditionally appear before the beginning of the text of the Psalms.

Art historical analysis would assist in dating the first image. The intense deep blue worn by the Virgin and two of the apostles is probably made with lapis lazuli, one of the most expensive medieval pigments created from Afghani lapis, probably sourced in Venetian markets. The slightly swaying, elegantly placed figures, the gentle drapery folds and the tightly drawn facial features and long fingers of these figures would clearly indicate a late medieval Gothic timeframe. Image 2 would confirm your hypothesis.

Image 2 begins the Psalter proper, with Psalm 1. The Psalm begins, ‘Beatus vir’, ‘blessed is the man’. This phrase is contained in the display script which begins the Psalm, the initial letter, B, is writ large enough to contain two images, each in a separate bowl of the letter. The top register contains an image of David playing his harp. In the Middle Ages, David was understood as the author of the Psalms. The image below shows the Judgement of Solomon, another frequently used reference in this position. The neat gothic textura script and tightly formed red and blue penflourishing confirm dating to the second half of the thirteenth century. Although the marginalia that scampers around on the frame of the text suggests French influence, the saints’ days and other observances in the calendar of this Psalter indicate that it was made for use in England, and possibly produced in Oxford.



Round 4 - Palaeography Challenge 

Round 4 has been put together by LRBS tutor Michelle Brown, using material from The Medieval Book course. Have a go at this Palaeography Challenge! Put the following manuscripts in chronological order and have a stab at allocating each a century, an area of origin and, if possible, the name of the script(s).


Protogothic book script (textualis or textura), England, 12th century

Humanistic square and rustic capitals (display script) and humanistic cursive book script.

Italy (Rome), 1480s

Caroline minuscule, with Uncials and rustic capitals (display script). Carolingian Empire (Tours), mid-9th century.

Gothic book script (textualis or textura).

England, first half of 13th century.

Insular half-uncial script (main text) and display capitals, with added interlinear gloss and colophon in Anglo-Saxon minuscule script.

England (NE), early 8th century and mid-10th century.

Rustic capitals, Carolingian Empire (diocese of Reims), c.840