Modelling Codicology I: Sequence in Gatherings, Folios and Pages

[This blog was first posted on the DigiPal website on 2 February 2015 but is reproduced here as it is particularly relevant to this project.]

One interesting complication of some medieval manuscripts such as Liber Wigornensis and the Exon Domesday book is that we do not know the original order of the gatherings. In fact, one of the few things that we know for sure for Exon Domesday is that the order as we have it now is almost certainly not the original. In the Conqueror's Commissioners project we are producing a digital edition of the manuscript, and so rather than presenting a fixed volume we are hoping to present it in a format whereby you can change the order of the pages yourself and see how the text changes as a result. However, as we all know, the order of pages is not entirely arbitrary: some sequences are more likely than others, and some are physically impossible. A page cannot have both a hair and a flesh side; a folio cannot be both a bifolium and a singleton; and so on. As a first step, then, I have tried to state as many of these definitions and constraints as I can think of, as precisely as possible. A first draft is presented below: please do have a look and send me any comments or corrections, preferably via the 'comments' box below.

Codicological Constraints

  1. All Folios comprise exactly two Pages.
  2. For parchment, Pages must be either Hair side (H) or Flesh side (F). A Folio must comprise one H Page and one F Page.
  3. For parchment, Pages must be one of Ruling side, Non-Ruling side, or Unruled. A Folio must comprise either one Ruling and one Non-Ruling Page, or two Unruled Pages.
    1. Pages normally have further properties, for example a given color in the case of parchment.
    2. Folios normally have further properties, for example thickness and stiffness; potentially color in the case of paper.
  4. A Folio might stand on its own or might be conjoint with another Folio. A standalone folio is called a singleton; the pair of conjoint Folios together is called a bifolium (plural bifolia).
  5. A Gathering comprises one or more Folios
    1. Any bifolia in a single Gathering must be nested within each other; there is therefore at most one outermost bifolium in any gathering. In principle there can be any number of singletons. 
  6. Sequences of Pages are ordered, as are sequences of Folios and sequences of Gatherings.
    1. By convention the first Page of a Folio is called the recto and the second page the verso. [Notice that this means that recto and verso are reversed in right-to-left writing systems.]
    2. Rule 5 combined with Rule 2 above requires that every Folio must be either H then F, or F then H. [In practice, it may be more efficient and generalizable to record it this way than associate H and F at the Page level.]
  7. The order of Pages and Folios is subject to hard constraints. These result from definitions or the bounds of physical possibility and so cannot be broken under any circumstances:
    1. The recto of one Folio must be the same H/F type as the verso of the conjoint Folio (if there is one). In other words, if the first recto of a bifolium is H then the corresponding verso must be F (from 6 above); the recto of the conjoint folio must then also be F and the verso of the conjoint folio must be H. Alternatively if the recto of a bifolium is F then the sequence is inverted. Bifolia must therefore be one of two types: HFFH or FHHF.
    2. Bifolia must nest and cannot overlap.
    3. Two Pages associated with a given Folio must always be associated with the same Folio (although the position of the Folio may change, as may the relative order of Pages: see 8.2 below).
    4. Two Folios that are identified as conjoint in one bifolium must always be part of the same bifolium (unless a mistake was made in collating, which is possible). In other words, changing the sequence of folios must not result in two conjoint folios becoming disjoint.
      1. Rules 7.3 and 7.4 imply that four Pages associated with the same bifolium must always be associated with the same bifolium.
  8. The order of Pages is also subject to strong constraints: these can be broken but only very rarely.
    1. Bifolia are normally ruled either before or after folding. [It's physically possible to rule partly before and partly after folding, but I am not aware of any examples.]
      1. If a given bifolium is ruled before folding then the Non-Ruling/Ruling sides are subject to the same constraints as Hair and Flesh above (all bifolia must be either NRRN or RNNR, and so on).
      2. If a given bifolium is ruled after folding then the Non-Ruling/Ruling sides are subject to the HF constraints, except that permissible patterns are either RNRN or NRNR.
      3. Similarly, other properties of Pages referred to in 3.1 above also normally extend across bifolia in the pattern XYYX.
      4. Similarly, other properties of Folios referred to in 3.2 above also normally extend to the conjoint folio in the same bifolium. For example, a bifolium is very unlikely to comprise one thick and one thin folios, but is much more likely to comprise two thick folios or two thin folios; and so on. 
    2. It can normally be assumed that the relative order of Pages in a given Folio is fixed, i.e. that a recto Page is always a recto and a verso always a verso.
      1. Exceptions are possible: a singleton or bifolium could be removed from the book, reversed, and bound in again. [This is very rare but is possisble – an example is 'Dunstan's Classbook'.]
      2. A singleton is 'reversed' by swapping the order of the two Pages for the relevant Folio: i.e. the recto becomes the verso and vice versa.
      3. A bifolium is 'reversed' by swapping the order of the two Folios, but not the order of the two Pages in each Folio. Thus the sequence of Pages ABCD becomes CDAB. 
        1. This in turn implies that reversing a singleton or bifolium inverts the H/F and R/N types. Thus an HF singleton becomes FH if reversed; an HFFH bifolium becomes FHHF; and so on.
    3. If a Text continues from Page A to Page B then it can be assumed that Page B must immediately follow Page A. 
      1. This implies further constraints on the sequence of Folios and Gatherings if Page A and Page B fall into different Folios or Gatherings.
  9. The order of Folios and Gatherings is subject to light constraints. These are assumed to hold if there is no evidence to the contrary but are broken relatively often in practice:
    1. If some bifolia are ruled as a unit and there is no evidence to the contrary then it is possible that all bifolia are so ruled. This is particularly likely for bifolia in a given Gathering, less likely across Gatherings.
    2. If two Folios which are not conjoint have exactly the same ruling and pricking then they are likely to be in the same Gathering. The more exact the match the more likely the Gathering is the same, although even a perfect match does not give certainty.
    3. The order of Pages in a given Folio is relatively unlikely to change; the order of Folios in a Gathering is somewhat unlikely to change; the order of Gatherings in a book is relatively likely to change.
    4. The position of a singleton is more likely to change than that of a bifolium.
    5. If a Text at the end of a Folio breaks off abruptly and is followed by a different Text on the following Folio, then it is likely that the two Folios should not be in sequence.
      1. The abrupt change may be because the Folios are in the 'incorrect' order. If so then there exists a 'correct' order in which the Text does not break off but is complete, in which case this sequence is to be preferred.
      2. Alternatively, the abrupt change may be because one or more Folios are lost. If so then there is no order in which the Text is complete, and so the 'correct' sequence will still include this abrupt change. 
    6. If a Text ends at the end of a Folio and a new Text begins on the following Folio then the two Folios need not be in sequence. (Converse of 9.5 above)
    7. For both 9.5 and 9.6, the likelihood that they are not in sequence increases if:
      1. The two texts are written in different Hands.
      2. The two texts are in different Gatherings.
      3. The first text is followed by blank space for the rest of the Folio
      4. The first text is followed by blank space for the rest of the Gathering.
        1. If all of 9.7.1–4 hold for case 9.6 then it is near certain that the gatherings were produced at different times, particularly if the ruling and pricking are different. 
    8. If a Text at the end of a Folio is crammed into the end of the verso but then continues on the following Folio, then it is likely that the two Folios are in different but sequential Gatherings.
    9. In our context (eleventh-century England), a Gathering is usually has eight or ten folios and is unlikely to have more than twelve; the likelihood of more than twelve drops quickly to vanishing. (This depends on the time and place, however.)
    10. Gatherings of fewer than eight folios are not uncommon. Single-folio gatherings are unlikely.
    11. Gatherings are more likely to consist primarily of bifolia with fewer singletons.
    12. The normal assumption is that a book is designed with largely the same number of bifolia in each Gathering. (There are relatively numerous examples where this does not hold, though!)


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