Milne & Skeat on brown stains, water spots, lamp oil, pouncing

Steven Avery

Milne and Skeat touched on one of their supposed "proofs" that these were coffee stains. "There are also a number of brown stains, perhaps due to drops of oil or grease from the lamps and candles of pious readers in the past" (71). They even note the ink has run due to water spots. They further discuss the fact that it was necessary to remove the glossy surface of the animal skins so that the writing would be sustained on vellum. They point out that both medieval AND modern scribes used a variety of substances, including "powdered pumice, powdered cuttle-fish bone, sandarac, chalk, whiting, &c. or combinations of these." They go further in noting that "the harsh scouring of the pages suggests fine sand" (79) and that this treatment, known as pouncing, was actually done by the scribe in the fourth century. The point is that there are many other explanations for the stained pages than a conspiracy.

This is a mish-mosh.
Mozorov exposed the lack of handling grime.


I. TITLES (cf. Fig. 9)


p. 36-37

p. 37

p. 38

p. 39

CORRECTORS and many PICS continue through p. 50
p. 51-59

p. 60-65

p. 66-69

p. 70

No exhaustive description1 has yet been given of the material side
of the Sinaiticus. From the standpoint of Biblical studies, the
details which follow may at first sight appear superfluous, but in
the present unsatisfactory state of Greek palaeography any scrap
of evidence may eventually prove of use for determining the age,
or still better, the provenance, of the book. If no conclusion can as
yet be drawn from these statistics, the cause lies in the dearth of
comparative material, for with the exception of the Freer group,
no such information is available concerning other early Biblical
manuscripts. And however inconclusive such a description may
seem, it is nevertheless worth setting down as an historical record,
since it displays the technique of the vellum codex, even at this
early stage of its career, in so high a state of development that
down to the present day no radical changes or improvements have
been evolved.
The vellum,2 according to experts who have examined it, is
probably a mixture of sheepskin and goatskin, as in the Freer MSS.,
which are presumably of Egyptian origin. Any definite pronounce-
ment is, however, made difficult by the scraping to which the skins
have been subjected and which has frequently removed the
characteristic markings. Tischendorf s oft-quoted surmise that the
skins were those of antelopes rests on no foundation in fact, while
uterine vellum is excluded by the great size of the sheets. There
is no noticeable difference between the vellum of the Sinaiticus
and the modern product, for methods of preparation have not
changed materially,3 except that in recent times machinery has
been invented to split off for use as skiver leather the hair or ‘grain’
side of sheepskin, which was formerly removed by laborious scrap-
ing and grinding. Even] now, of course, a certain amount of
scraping is still necessary, and in the case of true vellum, i.e. calf-
skin, which is not as a rule split, scraping remains the regular
method of reduction.

1 For a provisional account of the MS. and its binding see Douglas Cockerell in The British Museum Quarterly, x, 1936, pp. 180-2, with pi. Lin.

2 The term vellum, properly calfskin, is here used generally of skins prepared for writing, whatever their ultimate origin. Cf. W. L. Ustick, ‘Parchment’ and ‘Vellum’, in The Library, xvii, 1936, pp. 439-43.

3 Cf. the recipes quoted by D. V. Thompson, ‘Medieval Parchment-making’, in The Library, xvi, 1935, pp. 113-17.

p. 71
The vellum is generally in good condition, retaining its ‘life’ and toughness except where, as on some of the edges of the leaves, it has been wet. In those places it is brittle and liable to crack. On most of the edges there were numerous short slits, and the inner margins of many leaves were badly slit and damaged. Nearly all the inner margins had been contracted by the application of hot glue to the back in the course of successive bindings. A good many leaves were rather badly cockled all over, and some were locally contracted where spots of water appear to have fallen on them; where these spots fell on the writing, the ink has run. There are also a number of brown stains, perhaps due to drops of oil or grease from the lamps and candles of pious readers in the past. The occasional flaying-marks, i.e. accidental punctures in the skin, which develop into oval or circular holes in the process of manufacture, have as a rule been covered over with thin vellum shavings.


The next stage was to mark the quire for ruling. This was done by folding it down the centre and piercing with an awl right through the eight thicknesses of vellum. Pricks (cf. Fig. 21) were made (1) in the upper and lower margins, to guide the vertical bounding-lines of the columns of writing, (2) down the right side about two or three inches from the fore-edge,1 to guide the horizontal ruled lines on which the writing stands, and (3) occasionally only, in the centre of the upper margin, to guide short lines ruled for the running titles.

The intervals between the pricks down the fore-edge, and consequently the rulings they serve to guide, vary greatly in size; sometimes they are intended for one line of writing only, sometimes for two, three, or even four lines. There is also considerable variety in the unit of spacing, so that intervals meant to hold the same number of lines of writing are not necessarily of the same size. Yet the total height of the ruled space remains remarkably constant.

Such irregularities could not have occurred in the course of setting out these pricks with compasses, and the most probable explanation
seems to be that a cylindrical2 ruler with forty-eight equally-spaced marks was employed, and that a hole was pricked roughly opposite
every mark, every other mark, or every third or fourth mark, according to the whim of the moment. Thus in spite of irregularities of spacing the ultimate size of the column remains unchanged. The prickings for the bounding-lines placed in the upper and lower margins are often so near the edge that they have been cut off in binding; they are fairly regularly spaced throughout the book, but there is not enough evidence to show how they were set out. In contrast to the rest of the manuscript, the Poetical books of the Old Testament are pricked and ruled for two columns to the page, each column having in addition an indented line, about an inch from its left edge, for the rubrics and the over-runs where the verse does not end with the line (cf. Fig. 22). A similar line is drawn about an inch from the right edge of the column, to mark the indents for the reverse side of the page. It is worthy of note that two of the quires prepared in this way (64 and 68) were at first wrongly pricked for
four columns.

1 And thus standing within the text, as is usual in early Greek and Latin MSS. Cf. E. A. Lowe, Codices Latini Anliquiores, ii, 1935, p. vi. The last prick is doubled.

2 This shape would give most scope for irregularities in spacing. A flat ruler, even of the crudest design, could hardly permit of such variations.

Prose books

Poetical books
This was done with a hard point, normally on the flesh-side of the vellum, the line thus appearing as a raised ridge on the reverse or hair-side. After pricking, the quire was spread out flat, with the outermost bifolium on top, showing the flesh-side; this was then ruled, first with the vertical bounding lines of the columns, then horizontally right across the double sheet from one set of pricks to the other (Fig. 22). The quire was now folded up, and each successive opening which showed the flesh-side was similarly ruled across. Thus if we number the pages of the quire 1 to 16,
pages 1 + 16, 4+5, 8 + g, 12+ 13, are ruled together in pairs.

This method of ruling, though found in some other early manuscripts, is very unusual, and the ruling of non-conjugate leaves must have been a delicate matter in spite of the precautions taken to keep the quire together. It had one advantage, however, in that the flesh-side openings, where the ruling was heaviest and most prominent, showed complete correspondence between the text-lines of the two facing pages.

Apparent exceptions to the above scheme can usually be traced to some special circumstance; for example, it is hardly necessary to point out that the cancel-leaves in the New Testament differ in pricking and ruling from the rest of the quire. The outermost bifolium of quire 40 is likewise from an alien source, though no change of hand is involved, and there is no reason to regard it as a cancel-leaf. Quire 90 (cf. p. 78, note 11) is irregular in make-up, as flesh- and hair-sides were not matched; the bifolia were ruled separately before folding so that the ruling might be on the flesh side throughout. Throughout the book no attempt was made to rule more than one thickness at a time, although with such thin vellum it would have been quite practicable, there being in fact numerous instances of secondary impressions, where the ruling has unintentionally penetrated to the next sheet or sheets.




Continues on p. 77 and 78
New Testament starts on Quire 74

p. 79

To give the writing a hold on the vellum it was necessary to remove as far as possible the glossy, greasy surface common to all newly prepared skins. This was done by roughing with an abrasive the area intended for writing. Medieval1 and modern2 scribes have advocated a variety of substances—powdered pumice, powdered cuttle-fish bone, sandarac, chalk, whiting, &c., or combinations of these, but it is of course impossible to say what was used on the Sinaiticus; the harsh scouring of some of the pages suggests fine sand.

That the pouncing was done by the scribe himself as he went along can be inferred from the changes in its appearance, notably between the pages written by A and those written by D; scribe A rubbed the powder up and down the page, making a curious swerve in the upper margin; D worked more carefully, keeping his lines strictly perpendicular, while there are often traces of a further pouncing at right angles (i.e. horizontally). Scribe B’s practice presents no marked characteristics.

It would be expected that the scribe would pounce a whole quire at a time, but this is clearly not the case, since where a book, such as 4 Maccabees or Psalms, is divided between two scribes, the appearance of the pouncing changes simultaneously with the hand, even if this occurs in the middle of a quire.

Besides the text area, small patches were often pounced in the upper margins for the running titles, and the margins were often pounced to receive corrections, not only by the earliest correctors, but Ca as well.

1 Cf. D. V. Thompson, op. cit.

2 Cf. Edward Johnson, Writing and Illuminated Lettering, 1908, p. 174; Graily Hewitt, Lettering, 1930, pp. 270-2.

9. INK
Little can be said of the nature of the ink, as analysis cannot be carried out without damage to the manuscript. It is, however, certain from the way in which the vellum has been eaten away in many places3 that the ink was in the main an iron compound, and not the old carbon-and-gum ink which is found almost universally on papyri. So far as the evidence goes at present, it seems clear that this chemical ink came into use with the adoption of vellum as a writing material; a carbon ink would not stick to the surface of the vellum, whereas a chemical ink held, often only too well.

The difference between the two can be clearly seen in a microscope, under which chemical ink appears as a stain, causing a kind of granulated effect on the vellum, whereas a carbon ink appears as a mass of individual specks of carbon resting on the surface. In the Sinaiticus, the ink, though mainly a chemical compound, must have contained a certain amount of carbon, as offsets are frequent, and the ink has run where damp has reached it.
The colour of the ink varies a good deal, from a warm yellow-brown to nearly black, though it never shows the jet-black of pure carbon inks. A good deal of the variation may be due simply to the amount of ink on the pen, or to differences in the quality of the vellum, but in some of the coronis designs in the New Testament, and in the superscriptions, running titles, and enumeration of
in A’s very small hand (cf. pp. 32, 39), the ink seems to have been deliberately thinned to give a difference of shade.
The inks used by all three scribes yield the same range of shades, and colour cannot be used to identify the writers. It was clearly a matter of chance whether, when a scribe replenished his supply of ink, the shade matched; a good instance of a change of this kind is provided by the Prophetic books of the Old Testament, the early part of which is written in a much darker ink; the exact place where the change takes place is O.T. 80b, col. 3.

3 The destruction of the vellum is not due to the ink itself, but to sulphuric acid liberated by chemical changes in it.


These have already been fully discussed above, pp. 7-8, where it is stated that none of them can be assigned to any of the three text hands. This is natural enough, for, with three scribes working more or less simultaneously and not knowing exactly how much space the text allotted to them would occupy (cf. p. 72), only the scribe of the opening section could have attempted to number his quires. We may compare the Codex Alexandrinus, where the first hand, at the beginning of each quire written by him, drew an ornamental frame to contain the quire number, but inserted the numeral only in the first run of quires. The vacancies he left were filled by a later hand.

p. 81-86


p. 82

p. 83

p. 87-90

p. 91-112

p. 113 to 130 (166 to 183)
PLATES 1-9 Sinaiticus

Plates Alexandrinus
(184 to 250)
Plate 10-41
Plates Alexandrinus
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