Macclesfield Alphabet Book

Macclesfield Alphabet Book

England (United Kingdom) — 1425–1475

No pattern book from medieval England is more complete: 14 artistic alphabets with decorative patterns, adorned with ornamental borders, grotesques and elaborate figures

  1. Very few sample books used by medieval ateliers for potential customers have survived to the present

  2. This extraordinary specimen from ca. 1490 was sold in 2009 for the princely sum of £600,000

  3. It includes various alphabets with human, foliate, zoomorphic, and anthropomorphic designs

Macclesfield Alphabet Book

Facsimile Copy Available!
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(under 1,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Macclesfield Alphabet Book

The Macclesfield Alphabet Book is the most complete surviving pattern book from medieval England and contains 14 different types of decorative alphabets. Created ca. 1490, the manuscript was part of the library of the Earls of Macclesfield from ca. 1750 until 2009 when it was acquired by the British Library for the princely sum of £600,000. It was likely used as a sample book for potential customers in an atelier producing manuscripts. Very few books of this type have survived to the present and offer precious insights into the process of manuscript production as well as being a valuable tool for research in art history and material culture studies.

Macclesfield Alphabet Book

Likely used in a late medieval artist’s workshop, the Macclesfield Alphabet Book is a recently discovered masterpiece of medieval book art. Named after its erstwhile owners, the Earls of Macclesfield, it is an incredibly rare specimen – only one other late medieval English pattern book has survived to the present. Examples have been found in various illuminated manuscripts and printed books with woodcuts that appear to have been based on the Macclesfield Alphabet Book. With the help of supporters like the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund, and many individuals, the British Library was able to acquire the manuscript for £600,000 in 2009 against an offer from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

A Wealth of Illumination

Aside from alphabets in Gothic script, one alphabet features initials with faces while others have foliate, zoomorphic, and anthropomorphic initials. Two different types of borders are also presented, some fully colored and illuminated with gold leaf. Other features of the manuscript include sketches and drawings featuring grotesques and other figures, a list of names from Adam to Zacharias, a drawing of an uprooted tree with a shield inscribed “R.B.”, and a colorful emblem with three flowers and two gold gloves.

Provenance of a Rediscovered Masterpiece

The origins of the manuscript remain unclear, but there are various clues that shed light on its mysterious past. An inscription as well as a shield marked “RB” indicate that it was owned by a certain Friar Baldry, who may have been Roger Baldry, who was part of the Cluniac Priory of St Mary of Thetford, Norfolk during the early 16th century. Another 16th century owner appears to have been a man named Francis Blyths. Ultraviolet light reveals another inscription for George Coppin, possibly Sir George Coppin, Clerk of the Crown and Chancery Courts, who was knighted in July 1603. Sometime before 1750, the manuscript found itself in the library of Shirburn Castle, family seat of the Earls of Macclesfield and was affixed with a bookplate bearing their arms and motto Sapere aude or “Dare to be Wise”.


Alternative Titles
Macclesfield Musterbuch
Baldry Pattern Book
Size / Format
92 pages / 25.0 × 17.5 cm
Gothic Humanistic
14 different sample sets of initials and letters in alphabetical order

Available facsimile editions:
The Macclesfield Alphabet Book
British Library – London, 2010
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Macclesfield Alphabet Book

British Library – London, 2010

Publisher: British Library – London, 2010
Commentary: 1 volume by Christopher de Hamel and Patricia Lovett
Language: English
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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