A Designer’s Portfolio, 16th Century-Style

From the original Macc Book – as used by designers in the 1500s
Before black vinyl folders, and way before the website, the Mediaeval ancestors of today’s graphic designers produced ‘model’ or ‘pattern’ books to show their work to potential clients. Only a handful survive but the British Library has recently discovered a prime example – the so-called Macclesfield Alphabet Book


From the original Macc Book – as used by designers in the 1500s

Before black vinyl folders, and way before the website, the Mediaeval ancestors of today’s graphic designers produced ‘model’ or ‘pattern’ books to show their work to potential clients. Only a handful survive but the British Library has recently discovered a prime example – the so-called Macclesfield Alphabet Book.


“…and with this alphabet we achieved best of breed stand-out in the highly competitive gruel sector…”

Produced c1500, the book is filled with designs for different styles of script, letters, initials and decorative borders. All are believed to have come from one workshop, where the book would have been used not just in ye olde pitche meetinge but also to teach assistants how to reproduce the house styles.

There are 14 different types of decorative alphabets featured, including decorative initials with faces

‘foliate’ alphabets, ie those featuring leaves or other foliage


a zoomorphic alphabet

plus, the Library says, large, coloured anthropomorphic initials modelled after fifteenth-century woodcuts or engravings

as well as two sets of different types of borders, some of which are fully illuminated in colours and gold.


“Yes, very nice, but can you make my coat of arms bigger?”

The Library is appealing for donations so that it can acquire the book, which it describes as being of “outstanding significance” and which has been in the library of the Earls of Macclesfield since around 1750. So far it has raised £340,000 of the £600,000 purchase price. If you can help, please email chloe.strickland@bl.uk or gabrielle.filmer-pasco@bl.uk

UPDATE
I asked the British Library about whether people should use gloves, here’s what they had to say:

“We recommend that people do not wear gloves when handling collection items unless they are touching certain vulnerable surfaces such as un-protected photographs, lead seals or the surface of a globe.

Instead we prefer people to ensure that they have clean, dry hands. There are several reasons for this. Gloves can blunt touch and make people less manually dextrous as they cannot feel the item that they are handling. This can cause them to grab at the item they are viewing or to hold it too firmly. This can actually increase rather than minimise the risk of damage to the item.

It is also very difficult to turn or lift pages with gloved hands. We have recently filmed a series of short videos which demonstrate the best way to handle and use different types of collection items.

This includes a video entitled ‘Using Gloves with Collection items’ which demonstrates how difficult it is to turn or lift pages with gloved hands. These videos can be viewed on our website by following this link.

Lastly gloves can also catch on loose pigments or fibres as well as picking up and transferring dust.”

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