home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives Unsolved Mystery #5: Latin Manuscript

Unsolved Mystery #5: Latin Manuscript

This manuscript came to us as a part of a larger acquisition made in 2006.  The text is unidentified, although we think it may have something to do with the writings of Thomas Aquinas.  The front flyleaves contain a library shelfmark for Dupplin Castle, and the inscription "collat. & perfect. p. J. Wright," dated December 31, 1723.  Stephen Ferguson at Rare Book Collections @ Princeton has a very informative blog post about J. Wright and the books he collated as librarian for the Earl of Kinnoull.




Can you identify the text?  When was it produced, and by whom? 

Email us at SpecialCollections@missouri.edu with any information.

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives Unsolved Mystery #4: Palm Leaf Manuscripts

Unsolved Mystery #4: Palm Leaf Manuscripts

After a short break, Unsolved Mysteries is back!  Two Asian manuscripts on palm leaves are this week's mystery material. One is a single leaf, and the other is a bound book.

The single leaf was acquired as part of the Pages from the Past portfolio in the 1960s.



 Like the other items in the portfolio, this leaf has a short explanatory text – but we've haven't been able to verify it.

From the great paritta, a translation in Burmese on a "palm leaf book."  In an area of the world where paper and even leather rots almost overnight, strips of palm have long been used as a writing material.  Note the two holes in the leaf where a vine cord bound the book and allowed the pages to be turned.  The "colophon" states that this translation was completed on the 7th waxing of the month of Tawthalin of the Burmese year 1237 (September 1875).  The circular characters are first inscribed on the leaf with a sharp instrument, such as an iron stylus, then an ink of oil and charcoal is wiped over the characters, to make them legible.  The Burmese round characters developed because the thin fragile leaf of palm would not take inscribing where long straight lines might split the fiber.

We know even less about the palm leaf book, except that it's been identified as Javanese.  It came to us from the collection of Walter Williams, the founding dean of the School of Journalism and President of the University of Missouri from 1931 until his death in 1935.  The book was allegedly given to him by Ben Robertson, Jr., a J-School graduate and war correspondent whose resume included brief stints at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and The News of Adelaide, Australia.  It's not clear where Robertson would have acquired the book, but it must have come to MU in the early twentieth century.



Is the palm leaf book authentic?  What is the text?  Is the information about the single leaf correct?

As always, email us at SpecialCollections@missouri.edu with information about these materials, or any of our other unsolved mysteries.

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives Unsolved Mystery #3: Extrait des Registres du Parlement

Unsolved Mystery #3: Extrait des Registres du Parlement

You might think I'm cheating a bit with this week's Unsolved Mystery.  After all, this manuscript is catalogued; it's even fully digitized!  We know where it came from, how we got it, and we have a general outline of its contents.  Not much of a mystery, right? 

Well, like most of our Unsolved Mysteries, there are more pieces of the story to uncover.


This manuscript on the laws of Paris and the French Parliament is attributed to Monsieur Drouyn de Vandeuil, the first President of the Parliament of Toulouse, and contains a history of France and a register of French royalty. There is also an extract of the minutes of the French Parliament.  The manuscript seems to have been written by two separate scribes.  We assume it's a fair copy of minutes and other working documents.

This manuscript belonged to the French lawyer and bibliophile Jacques Flach. His collection was purchased by the University of Missouri in 1920, and the manuscript has been here ever since.  It is available through the University of Missouri Digital Library.


To our knowledge, the manuscript has never been published or studied – so we have an outline of the text, but we don't know its contents in detail. 

How did Flach come across the manuscript? Is the attribution correct? Has the text ever been published?  What information does it contain?

If you have information about this or any other of our unsolved mysteries, email us at SpecialCollections@missouri.edu – and stay tuned for another Special Collections mystery next week.

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives What’s the oldest item in Special Collections?

What’s the oldest item in Special Collections?

We get this question a lot – and we posed it as a multiple-choice trivia question this week on our Facebook page.  Now it’s time to reveal the answer.   Which is the oldest item in Special Collections?

And the winner is… The Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

tablet9-1_smAs far as we know, this cuneiform tablet dates to around 2500 B.C.E., making it the oldest item held in Special Collections (it predates the next oldest item, an Egyptian scarab seal, by about 500 years).

This tablet is one of eight held in the Special Collections department.  Although the other seven tablets have been translated, this one has never been deciphered.  If you read any of the ancient Near Eastern dialects, we’d love to hear from you!

For more information about the cuneiform tablets in Special Collections, see the online exhibit Cuneiform Tablets: Records of Ancient Mesopotamia see the list on our website [digital exhibit retired; link updated 11/10/2014].


What about the other options?

This was a tough question, because all of the items were the oldest in one way or another.  More information below.

The Hebrew Scroll

IMG_6313If you guessed that the scroll represents the oldest book form in Special Collections, you were right!  The scroll predated the codex (the form we usually associate with a book nowadays) by thousands of years.

In most of the Western world, the codex replaced the scroll gradually, from around 300 to 500 A.D.  However, among Jewish communities, the scroll retained its place as the primary form for storing and transmitting information.  Jewish congregations still use temple scrolls produced to strict specifications in their rituals of worship.

Although it’s old, this parchment scroll is far from ancient.  It dates from the 1600s, contains the Book of Ruth, and was probably not produced for temple reading.  It fits conveniently into the hand, the perfect size for personal study.

The Latin Manuscript Codex

IMG_6304This manuscript copy of De Constructione by Priscianus dates to around 1150 A.D.  Although Special Collections holds manuscript fragments that are older, this is the oldest complete book in the collection.  It is a work on grammar, written in Latin with passages in Greek.IMG_6302

The binding of this manuscript was done later than the text, but it is also interesting because it’s a good example of a fifteenth-century German binding in blind-tooled pigskin.  The back board still shows discoloration from the former site of a metal clasp.

The Egyptian Papyrus Fragment

IMG_6319Dating from approximately 1500-1100 B.C.E., this fragment from the Egyptian Book of the Dead isn’t the oldest item in Special Collections – but it is the oldest piece of writing on papyrus in Special Collections.

Papyrus is a plant that grows along the marshy banks of the Nile River, and the ancient Egyptians used it to make a paper-like substance for writing.  Papyrus became one of Egypt’s main exports and was used throughout the ancient world, in Greece, modern-day Turkey, and the Middle East.


home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives Tennessee Williams’ first two plays

Tennessee Williams’ first two plays

Before Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Glass Menagerie, there were Beauty is the Word and Hot Milk at Three in the Morning.  And before he went by Tennessee, playwright Thomas Lanier Williams was an MU student.  This weekend kicks off campus-wide celebrations of Williams’ 100th birthday, and to join in the festivities, we’re featuring two manuscripts of his earliest plays.

Beauty is the Word
Tennessee Williams' stage diagram for Beauty is the Word


Beauty is the Word was Williams’ very first play.  It was submitted for the MU Dramatic Arts Club’s Dramatic Prize Plays contest in 1930.  The play was produced on stage as part of the competition, but it appears not to have won an award in the contest.  Over the course of one act, two young and worldly aesthetes visit their austere and forbidding missionary relatives somewhere in the South Pacific.  When the natives revolt and threaten to burn down the mission, the young couple saves the day by appealing to the natives with dance and music rather than fear of damnation.

Hot Milk at Three in the Morning
Title page for Hot Milk at Three in the Morning, featuring the signature of Thomas Lanier Williams


Hot Milk at Three in the Morning was Williams’ sophomore submission to the Dramatic Prize Plays contest.  The play focuses on an argument between a young married couple who are trapped by poverty and illness.  It was staged in 1932, and like Beauty is the Word, it received an honorable mention.  Williams revised the play in 1940, titling it Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry.  It was included in a compilation of the best plays of 1940 and was the first of Williams’ plays to be published.

The manuscripts
The manuscripts were bound into volumes with other submissions for each year.


Both manuscripts are a part of the University of Missouri Collection, which features official publications along with the works of faculty, staff, and distinguished alumni.