On Books and Scrolls

I was looking through some notes I made a while back concerning books and scrolls, and thought they might be of interest. Probably no blog post tomorrow – my company is hosting a charity golf course for most of the day, and then I’m going to see my daughter in a performance of Alice in Wonderland (she’s the door mouse). Until Tuesday …

Books and Scrolls

Clay Tablet: A tablet made of clay (terracotta) and either fired in a kiln to make it permanent, or simply erased if to be recycled. Writing on a clay tablet was done with a reed using cuneiform characters. A typical, large tablet weighs 15 pounds. Clay tablets cannot holds spells of more than 1st level.

Bamboo Scroll: A bamboo scroll is a collection of long, narrow bamboo slips joined together with thread. Each slip can hold dozens of pictographs. When joined together, the slips can be rolled like a scroll. Because these scrolls were heavy, they were replaced upon the invention of paper. A typical scroll weighs 10 pounds and can hold any level of spell, with such spell scrolls weighing 2 pounds per spell level so inscribed.

Papyrus Scroll: Papyrus is a thick, paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, a wetland reed. Papyrus was cheap, but could not be folded, and thus had to be used in large, heavy scrolls. Papyrus is fragile and susceptible to damage from moisture and dryness, and it presented an uneven surface for writing unless of the very highest quality. Papyrus was abandoned for parchment by the 12th century, with Papal Bulls being some of the last things written on papyrus. Papyrus is manufactured by stripping the outer rind of the stem and cutting the interior into strips. The strips are laid side by side, horizontally. Another layer is then added atop the first, placed side by side vertically. While still moist, the two layers are hammered together. The sheet is then dried under pressure. After drying, the sheet is polished with a stone, shell or piece of wood. A typical scroll is assumed to weigh 25 pounds, with much of the weight coming from the rollers. Scrolls can hold spells of any level and should weigh approximately 5 pounds per spell level.

Book: A typical medieval book weighed between 40 and 165 lb. The Codex Gigas, for example, was 3.2 feet long, 20 inches wide and weighed 165 pounds. A rare Hebrew manuscript contained 1,042 pages and weighed 57 pounds. Given these dimensions, we can pretend that a basic book weighs 0.5 ounces per page, while a large tome weighs twice that much and provides twice as much surface for writing. A sheet of paper or parchment was called a bifolium, being a single folio folded in half to produce two leaves. Books were often bound between two thin sheets of wood that were covered by leather. When books were rare (i.e. before the printing press) they were often chained to desks.

Page Measures
Quire = 24 folio

Ream = 20 quires = 480 folio

Bundle = 2 reams = 960 folio

Bale = 5 bundles = 4,800 folio

Books can be printed on one of several mediums:

Parchment: Made from the skin of sheep, goats, deer and other animals. The parchmenter begins the process by selecting a disease and tick-free animal. The animal’s skin is washed thoroughly and soaked in a vat of water and lime for about a week, stirring several times a day with a wooden pole. The pelt is removed and laid over a curved, upright shield of wood. The hair is scraped out using a long, curved knife with a wooden handle on each end. The dehaired pelt is then rinsed in cold water for two more days to remove the lime. The skin is dried while stretched on a frame. The skin is secured to the frame by pushing pebbles into the skin every inch or so to make knobs, to which strings were tied. It was not uncommon to see holes in finished parchments where tiny tears made in the scraping process were stretched out in the stretching process. The parchmenter now ladles hot water over the stretched skin while scraping with another curved knife called a lunellum. The parchment is finally allowed to dry completely, shrinking and tightening as it does. Once dry, the scraping begins anew. Finally, the parchment can be removed and rolled up for transportation or sale. A scribe would purchase the parchment in this condition, cutting it to his desired size and buffing it before use with chalk. Parchment sheets were usually sold by the dozen.

Vellum: High quality parchment made from calf skin.

Paper: Made from plant pulp, fibers, rags or cellulose. Paper is cheaper than parchment, but not as long lasting.

Types of Books

  1. Atlas (Geography)
  2. Bestiary (Fauna)
  3. Chronicle (History)
  4. Cookery (Recipes)
  5. Dialogue (Philosophy)
  6. Grimoire or Grammary (Magic)
  7. Herbal (Flora)
  8. Lectionary (Religion)
  9. Lexicon (Language)
  10. Manual (“How-to” on war, hunting, politics, etc.)
  11. Principia (Science, mathematics, alchemy)
  12. Romance (Stories meant for entertainment)

Image from here.