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With the kind permission of the author and publishers, the following glossary has been reproduced (with some revisions) from:

Michelle P. Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum in association with The British Library, 1994)

This glossary was first published in electronic form on the British Library's Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts (DigCIM) site.

Click on a letter below to go to that section of the glossary.

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The word refers to a medium-size volume, one quarter the area of a full sheet of writing material. The quires of quarto volumes were usually made by folding two sheets in half, then in half again. Quarto may be abbreviated to 4o or 4to.


Quires are the 'gatherings' or 'booklets' of which a book is formed. Quire numeration, which began in the LATE ANTIQUE period, consists of numbers written on a quire (usually on its final VERSO) to facilitate arrangement during BINDING.

Quire signatures (or leaf signatures) are numbers and/or letters written in a quire to facilitate the arrangement of its internal components. These were at first ad hoc, but beginning around 1400 they might follow a system: for example, ai-aiv could be written on the first four leaves of the first quire; bi-biv on the first four leaves of the second quire, and so on. Such annotations only became widespread from the late thirteenth century on. See also BIFOLIUM, FOLIO, and CODICOLOGY.

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