Wednesday, October 29th, 2014...10:14 am

Of Rampant Bulls and Scales

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As part of a continuing series of lectures and workshops sponsored by Houghton Library and the Standing Committee on Medieval Studies, Dr. Peter Rückert of the Landesarchiv of Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart visited Harvard the week of October 13th. On Tuesday, October 14th Dr. Rückert presented an illustrated lecture at Houghton entitled “Paper History and Watermarks Research: New Perceptions in Digital Dimensions.” On Thursday, October 16th he led two workshops on the “Material Aspects of Medieval German Manuscripts and Incunabula (for Description and Dating).” Jeffrey Hamburger, Kuno Francke Professor of German Art and Culture in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, welcomed Dr. Rückert at the morning workshop. Dr. Rückert provided a brief introduction on the history of papermaking, the various methods of reproducing watermarks, and their utility in dating and locating early manuscripts and printed books. He also defined several key terms and concepts used in the study of watermarks, such as watermarks as “twins,” variants, and types (e.g., bull’s heads, rampant bulls, scales, coats of arms).

Dr. Peter Rückert leads a seminar at Houghton Library

During his residence at Houghton, Dr. Rückert selected twelve Medieval German manuscripts and an incunabulum for workshop participants to examine. Participants were asked to locate leaves bearing watermarks and to trace them on translucent paper with the aid of a trans-illuminator. Tracings in hand, students then attempted to identify the watermarks in two standard reference works: C. M. Briquet’s Les Filigranes and Gerhard Piccard’s Die Wasserzeichenkartei Piccard im Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart. In addition, Dr. Rückert introduced two important websites dedicated to the study of watermarks: Wasserzeichen-Informationssystem (“Watermark Information System,” or WZIS,,), which since 2010 has digitized approximately 121,000 watermarks and relevant data such as motif, place of description, and source; and Bernstein The Memory of Paper (, a project co-funded by the EC programme eContentplus.

Students examine watermarks in medieval manuscripts

At the end of the workshops participants reported their findings to the group, after which Dr. Rückert added his own expert observations on the examined texts. Students left the workshops with a heightened awareness of watermarks as physical evidence in the study of early manuscripts and books.

[Thanks to Peter Accardo, Coordinator of Programs, for contributing this post.]

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