Professor Takamiya as a Collector

Takamiya MS 1: Glossed Bible

Takamiya MS 1. Glossed Bible, the prophetic books including Baruch, with prologues and commentary. France, probably Paris, c. 1250. 

This is the first western manuscript that Professor Takamiya purchased. While it is not an English manuscript, it has all the hallmarks of Professor Takamiya’s collecting interests and style. The manuscript is physically stunning. Its primary biblical text occupies the center block and is surrounded by the commentary. The two texts are thus layered next to each other, and significant attention was paid to the relative proportioning of the two texts. The manuscript displays wide margins and great detail in its decoration. Although written on the very thin parchment normally reserved for Paris Bibles, this manuscript reflects an earlier taste for glossed Bibles that normally incorporate only a few biblical books in each volume, here the prophetic books with their prologues.

Purchased in 1970 from a Tokyo bookdealer, it is the only manuscript that Professor Takamiya acquired in Japan from a retail bookseller; after buying this manuscript, he preferred to purchase at auction or from wholesale bookdealers, like Quaritch, that gave him wider selection and more reasonable prices.

Takamiya MS 2: De consolatione philosophiae

Takamiya MS 2. Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae. Italy, Tuscany, c. 1425

Professor Takamiya’s second purchase was not English either, although its author was extremely important to English readers. Boethius wrote De consolatione philosophiae in the 520s, while in prison; he was awaiting execution for treason on the orders of Theodoric the Great. In this prosimetric work, he wrestles with considering whether philosophy can provide consolation in the face of suffering, unjust punishment and, ultimately, death. That his philosophy was not overtly Christian did not overly concern his later readers, and his work remained popular throughout the medieval period. Several translations into Middle English, including one by Chaucer, circulated in the later Middle Ages, and Latin copies also remained popular.

This beautiful copy is exemplary of the rounded Gothic hand associated with Italian manuscripts. It has luxurious margins, and the beautiful decoration is composed in traditional Italian colors. This opening features several interlinear corrections and additions, and the metal clasp which held the book closed is visible on the right-hand side. 

Takamiya MS 95: Planetary Calendar

Takamiya MS 95. Planetary calendar. England, c. 1450.

This manuscript is representative of Professor Takamiya’s collecting at its height. Manuscripts such as this late medieval planetary calendar, written in Middle English prose, were vital for astrology, which in turn dictated what days and times would be best for bleeding, undertaking new business, or even locating yourself at sea with the use of an astrolabe. For each opening, four columns at the top divide the day into four temporal sections: before noon, afternoon, before midnight, and after midnight. Most of the page is then devoted to a chart that maps the celestial positions of the sun, Venus, Mercury, the moon, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars on each day of the week.  

Takamiya MS 38: Privite of privyteis

Takamiya MS 38. Johannes de Caritate, The Privyte of Privyteis. England, c. 1460-1485.

This book is the sole witness to this version of one of the most popular scientific treatises in the Middle Ages, the Secretum secretorum, spuriously attributed to Aristotle and translated into Middle English as The Privyte of Privyteis by Johannes de Caritate. This compilation of materials delves into the hidden processes of human generation. It explains how women become pregnant and offers considerations about impediments to human fertility. It also explains how “monsters” (a medieval understanding of birth defects) are born, which usually is attributed to too much or too little matter in the womb. Most of the discussion is based on the humoral theory of medicine and delivers deeply misogynistic results.

This is a beautifully crafted book, which is unusual among scientific works. Its translation into Middle English suggests that it was not necessarily intended for an audience who could read Latin, such as university-trained physicians.

Takamiya MS 22: Canterbury tales

Takamiya MS 22. Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (fragment). England (East Midlands?), c. 1460-1490. 

This unprepossessing manuscript with no binding is, in fact, one of the treasures of the Takamiya Collection. This is the Sion College copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which was created as early as 1460. It contains some of Chaucer’s most popular tales: those of the Clerk, the Wife of Bath, the Friar, and the Summoner. It demonstrates that Chaucer’s Tales would sometimes travel without their narrative framework and in incomplete form. Unlike the Devonshire Chaucer, which is clearly a deluxe manuscript, the Sion Chaucer, though still aesthetically appealing, is not decorated with anything near the other’s lavishness. It is presented here unbound because the original binding was so tight that the individual leaves were breaking.

Takamiya MS 9: Treatise on the astrolabe

Takamiya MS 9. Geoffrey Chaucer, A Treatise on the Astrolabe. England, c. 1450

Chaucer begins his Treatise on the Astrolabe with an address to "Lytyl Lewys my sone." This reference may or may not actually be to Chaucer's own son; regardless, the text does indeed provide the information a novice would need to use an astrolabe, an instrument for taking astronomical measurements. Chaucer's only scientific work, the Treatise is one of the earliest astronomical works and technical manuals to be written in English prose. The blue initials with red flourishes found throughout this manuscript are distinctly English.  

Takamiya MS 19: Master of game

Takamiya MS 19. The Master of Game. England, c. 1425. 

The Master of Game is the oldest treatise on hunting in the English language. It describes the routines of various animals and advises on hunting "best practices." It was written between 1406 and 1413 by Edward, Second Duke of York, who translated much of it from Gaston de Foix’s Livre de chasse  and added a fifth chapter specific to English hunting. He dedicated it to his cousin, King Henry IV, who had imprisoned him on suspicion of treason. This copy is one of three in the Takamiya Collection.   

Takamiya MS 35: Chronicle of the kings of England

Takamiya MS 35. Genealogy of the kings of England. England, c. 1275 and 1435.


This remarkable English chronicle roll was made in two distinct stages. The first part, very handsomely designed and written in the thirteenth century, covers the monarchs from Atheldred to Henry III and is accompanied by a Latin prose chronicle. To this was added, in the fifteenth century, John Lydgate’s popular Middle English Verses on the Kings of England, which extends the line through Henry VI. To accommodate multiple important descendants, it became necessary to append many “arms” that branch from a single roundel.

To survey the entire roll in greater detail, simply click on the image on the left and then, once you are taken to a new page, click on the image again.

Takamiya MS 51: Robin Hood

Takamiya MS 51. Accounts, and a fragment of a ballad of Robin Hood. England, mid-fifteenth century. 

Although age and wear have taken a toll, this small fragment of a Robin Hood ballad, which was never intended to be part of a book, is the only witness to this particular telling of the tale. The earliest Robin Hood manuscripts date to the second half of the fifteenth century, so this fragment is likely an early witness to a version of the ballad that did not survive. The central mission of the Robin Hood we know today – stealing from the rich to give to the poor – was not part of the earliest retellings of the story, which focus more on Robin’s outlaw status and the loyalty shown by his band of “merry men.”

This fragment may have been copied on waste paper to aid the author in compiling a larger codex, or it might have served as a text for reading aloud or even for memorization and performance, but that it survived is truly remarkable. The large leaf next to the ballad is the remainder of the scrap vellum, which appears to originally have been some type of genealogy or family history.

Takamiya MS 64: Sir John Mandeville's travels

Takamiya MS 64. Sir John Mandeville, Travels. England, early fifteenth century. 

Another treasure in the collection, this Middle English version of Mandeville’s Travels was the last copy in private hands before the Beinecke Library’s acquisition of Professor Takamiya’s collection. There is much debate as to who John Mandeville may have been and to what degree his descriptions of the various regions to which he traveled are based in reality. Among his destinations were the Holy Land, Egypt, Turkey, Persia, Tartary, India, and China. He may have been a model for Chaucer’s own Knight, and his Travels was very popular and widely translated. The popularity of the text illustrates the great desire medieval English people had for knowledge of the lands outside England. That many locations Mandeville described are fictional or plagiarized from other travel narratives was less important than the authority the manuscript claims for itself as the biography of a knowledgeable English knight. This manuscript maintains its original binding and was owned by a prominent Yorkshire family in the Middle Ages.

Takamiya MS 94: Verse and prose in Latin and Middle English

Takamiya MS 94. Anthology of verse and prose texts. England, c. 1450-1475

This manuscript is both a compilation of texts and a composite volume. The contents were copied at various times by several scribes, possibly including amateurs, and the codex even includes both parchment and paper leaves. We cannot draw many conclusions from its current condition, as it was bound in the early eighteenth century and may not have existed in its present form until then. Certainly the contents are miscellaneous enough. While over half the volume consists of a collection of Latin sermons, it also contains devotional poems and prose in Middle English including works by the popular John Lydgate and by “Prester John.” The latter, essentially a travel narrative like Mandeville’s Travels, concerns the legendary patriarch and king, Prester Johan. Identified as the ruler of a nation of Nestorian Christians, he is located by some sources in India or Africa and by others in Asia.

Takamiya MS 98: Confessio amantis

Takamiya MS 98. John Gower, Confessio amantis (fragment). England, c. 1393

This leaf originally was part of a manuscript now known as the “Stafford Gower” (Huntington Library MS EL 26 A 17), from which seventeen leaves were removed at some point in its long history. John Gower presented this copy of the Confessio amantis to his dedicatee and patron, Henry Bolingbroke, who soon thereafter deposed King Richard II and was crowned King Henry IV.

Because it was copied for the author to present to his noble patron, the manuscript is considered one of the primary authorities for the text of this narrative poem of some 33,000 lines. The Confessio amantis, as its title indicates, consists of the confession of an unhappy lover named Amans (“lover” in Latin). This fragment is from Book 4, in which Amans confesses to having committed the deadly sin of sloth.

Takamiya MS 78: The Fall of princes

Takamiya MS 78. John Lydgate, The Fall of Princes (fragment). England, c. 1440

This leaf is the only known survival from an otherwise unknown manuscript of Lydgate’s The Fall of Princes. The fragment is neatly copied in an Anglicana script and includes the characteristically English capital letters alternating in red and blue ink as well as a small decorated initial; the full manuscript must have been quite deluxe. Like the Robin Hood ballad stanzas scrawled on a piece of used parchment, which also survives in no other copy, this leaf is a witness to all of the books that did not survive the centuries between their creation and our collections.

The name and number written at the bottom of the page — “Phillipps MS 23554” — testify to one reason why some items did survive. This shelfmark indicates a place for this leaf in the prodigious manuscript collection of Sir Thomas Phillips (1770-1845), who may have owned more than sixty thousand medieval and early modern manuscripts and fragments. That which was collected was preserved.

The Takamiya Collection is also partly defined by the books Professor Takamiya chose not to purchase. During the 1970s, for instance, three unique manuscripts that fit Professor Takamiya’s interests in the history and literature of medieval England came to auction. The first of them is an Anglo-Saxon fragment called the Ely Abbey Farming Accounts. The second is the Book of Margery Kempe, which is an account of Kempe’s life that she had written in the mid-fifteenth century. It is the first autobiographical work by a woman in English and one of the most important medieval accounts of a laywoman and her spirituality; it exists solely in this copy. Possibly the most difficult manuscript for Professor Takamiya to pass up is a codex known today as the Winchester Anthology—the sole manuscript to contain Malory’s Morte Darthur, the topic of Professor Takamiya’s doctoral dissertation. Professor Takamiya felt that all three manuscripts should remain in England because they are crucial elements in the country’s historical patrimony and therefore do not belong in a Japanese collection. They were purchased by the British Library.

Professor Takamiya as a Collector