manuscript

manuscript, a handwritten work as distinguished from printing. The oldest manuscripts, those found in Egyptian tombs, were written on papyrus; the earliest dates from c.3500 B.C. parchment, which succeeded papyrus as a writing material, was much more durable; most extant ancient manuscripts are of parchment. Both sides were used and palimpsests, which were erased and reused pages, were common. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-20th cent. added immeasurably to the world's treasury of ancient manuscripts. In the ancient world the making and distribution of extra copies of manuscripts was widely practiced. There is some evidence of such treatment of manuscripts in Athens in the 5th cent. B.C., and the great libraries of the Hellenistic world encouraged the making of manuscript copies. The manuscripts of the Middle Ages were often beautifully illustrated in colors (see illumination, in art) on vellum, a fine variety of parchment. Initial letters of first lines and titles were often highly decorated. Although paper was invented in China in the 2d cent. A.D., it was not known in Europe until the 11th cent. Paper bases included silk, cotton, and linen, all used before the advent of printing. Medieval pens were made of quills and ink, most commonly black, of various carbon-containing substances. The study of ancient and medieval manuscripts and handwriting is a highly developed and complex discipline (see paleography). After the European invention of printing in the 15th cent., hand-copied manuscripts soon came to be valued by collectors of fine books. Among the important manuscript collections in the United States are those in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; and in the New York Public Library and Morgan Library in New York City. There are numerous superb European collections, notably those at the Vatican in Rome, the British Museum in London, and the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. Also known as manuscripts are modern authors' typescripts (or computer printouts) made for publishers and printers. The term includes as well the private and public papers, typed or handwritten, left by public figures for the use of historians and scholars. The Library of Congress holds a very large deposit of manuscripts of this type, including the papers of most U.S. Presidents. Other important collections of this sort are in the New York Public Library and the Massachusetts Historical Society. See book.

See L. Deuel, Testaments of Time (1965); G. S. Hunter, An Introduction to Archives and Manuscripts (1990).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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