Book History

Author: John Alexander Herbert
J.A. Herbert, or John Alexander Herbert, was born in 1862 in Gateshead, England to the Reverend S.A Herbert. Eventually J.A. Herbert became the Deputy Keeper of the Manuscripts in the British Museum, where he specialized in illumination and the medieval tales. While working at the British Museum, he wrote Volume iii of the "Catalogue of Romances" in 1911, Schools of Illumination (1914-1930), Illuminated Manuscripts in 1911, and The French Text of Ancrene Riwle in 1944. John Alexander Herbert died in 1948.
Bibliographic Information
This book was published in 1911 by G.P. Putnam's Sons in New York, and by Meuthen & co. ltd. in London. It is 356 pages long, with no roman numerals preceding the arabic numerals. The book is 11.5'' long by 7'' wide by 2.25'' high. There is no forward written by a different author, but there is a preface written by the author, J.A. Herbert. There is a dedication page, and J.A. Herbert dedicated this book to Sir George Warner, Magistro Discipulus. Herbert included footnotes, an appendix, and a bibliography.
Physical Description
This book is in really good condition. The cover is a plain dark blue with gold lettering only on the spine. In addition to the title, "Illuminated Manuscripts," "745.67 H415i" is written at the bottom of the spine.

The paper is of high quality, very thick, with faint horizontal lines visible from when it was made. The paper is composed of linen rag paper, which is more expensive and of higher quality than wood pulp paper.

Inside the book, it has very thin sheet of paper to protect the plate images from the preceding page of text.

On the inside of the back cover, there is a pocket where library due date slips were once inserted. It also has stamped dates of when and how often it was checked out; thirteen times from March 8, 1960 to January 24, 1964.
Illustrator: N/A
The book does not have an illustrator. Instead, it has plate images taken of many and varied illuminated manuscripts. The plate images were made by taking a picture of the original manuscript with a camera and then adhering the film to a plate. These plates offered faithful reproductions and were relatively cheap.
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons in New York and Methuen & Co. LTD. in London
The printer is William Brendon and Son, LTD in Plymouth. Their press was also known as the Mayflower Press. William Brendon was born in Cornwall, but moved his printing business to Plymouth in 1849. In the 1881 Census he employed 37 men, 28 boys, and 13 girls. He died in 1928 at the age of 83 and was succeeded by one of his sons, Charles Ernest Brendon. The business stopped when it was destroyed in an air raid in 1941. A descendant of the family formed a new printing business, Messrs Clarke, Doble, & Brendon LTD in 1946, and the original Mayflower press relocated to Hertfordshire.

The publisher in New York was G.P. Putnam's Sons. This company began in 1838 as a partnership between George Palmer Putnam and John Wiley, and was originally called Wiley & Putnam. But this partnership did not last, and G.P. Putnam went his separate way and started his own publishing business. When he died in 1872 his sons inherited the business and renamed the company. The company was bought in 1996 by the Penguin Group, but still uses the name G.P. Putnam's Sons to publish books for young readers.

The publisher in London was Meuthen & CO. LTD. This company was founded by the British Sir Algernon Meuthen in 1889 in order to publish textbooks. This company published prestigious authors such as Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the English translation of Albert Einstein's "Relativity: the Special and the General Theory: A Popular Exposition." It was converted into a limited liability company in 1910. In 1958 it was part of the Associate Book Publishers (ABP) before becoming part of Random House in 1997, and then finally buying itself out in 1998.
Different versions of this book can be found in 661 libraries, and a total of 35 editions. The libraries closest to the University of Mary Washington that have a copy are Georgetown University, the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art Library, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, and the Woodstock Theological Center Library.

This book can be found online in digital form on, as well as on google books. also carries paperback copies online, starting from $11.71 for the 2010 reprint.
Alexander, Jonathan J.G. Medieval Illuminators and Their Methods of Work. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

de Hamel, Christopher. A History of Illuminated Manuscripts. Boston: David R. Godine, 1986.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.

Herbert, John Alexander. Illuminated Manuscripts. New York: J.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1911.

“The Nation: A Weekly Journal Dedicated to Politics, Literature, Science, Drama, Music, Art, and Finance” vol XCII (New York, New York Evening Post Company, 1911), 350. (accessed December 7, 2011). accessed Oct 13, 2011 accessed Oct 13, 2011 accessed Oct 13, 2011
John Alexander Herbert wrote Illuminated Manuscripts in 1911 while he worked in the British Museum’s Department of Manuscripts. He used his access to rare manuscripts to write a thorough examination of illuminated manuscripts from the pre-Christian era up until the 1400s. Herbert wrote Illuminated Manuscripts specifically for people who wanted to learn more about the art and history of illumination.

He thoroughly documents all of his information and provides footnotes, appendices, and a bibliography for people who want to further their study. The quality of materials used to create this book reinforces that Illuminated Manuscripts was written and designed for students, scholars, and people who want to learn in-depth detail about how manuscripts were made.

Herbert would not have been able to write his book too much earlier, because the technology had only recently progressed to the point that allowed for the inclusion of images of actual manuscripts. Photographs could be taken of the manuscript, and then that film would be adhered to the smooth surface of a collotype plate. The end result was a photolithograph image that was a faithful reproduction of the original and was also relatively cheap to produce. A book about illuminated manuscripts would not be effective if it could not show the reader reproductions of the manuscripts that it describes.

Herbert’s book was indeed used by scholars at the time and in the years to come. Two recent authors writing on the subject of illuminated manuscripts cite J.A. Herbert in their bibliographies. Christopher de Hamel wrote A History of Illuminated Manuscripts in 1986, which carries forward Herbert’s work and expands it beyond what was possible for Herbert at the time. De Hamel includes far more images of manuscripts, and is able to have images and text on both sides of the pages, fully utilizing the space. Thanks to the innovations in print after 1911, de Hamel could also include multiple full color images of manuscripts, allowing the readers to appreciate the colors and gold leaf.

Herbert’s 1911 edition of Illuminated Manuscripts, published in New York by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, can be found in 41 libraries around the world. However, the knowledge inside this book has not been lost, even though the few copies that remain of the original edition reside safely in rare book rooms. Illuminated Manuscripts has been reprinted several times, with the most recent version printed in 2010 by the publisher Forgotten Books. is selling this 2010 edition new for $11.71, and used starting at $4.45. The average book advertised in “The Nation,” a journal dedicated to politics, literature, and the arts, sold for between $1 and $2 in 1911. In 2010 dollars, that would be between $23.10 and $46.21. Illuminated Manuscripts probably fell towards the higher end of the scale, and may even have cost more than that because of the quality of materials used to produce the book.

Illuminated Manuscripts is important because it has greatly influenced the study of illuminated manuscripts and continues to be influential today. It took full advantage of the technology available at the time of printing, and the books succeeding it continued that tradition. Reprintings of Herbert’s book can be purchased, and full scans of the original 1911 edition can also be found online. This ensures that all of the information contained in Illuminated Manuscripts can be utilized by later generations of scholars and people who would like to learn more about the art and history of illuminated manuscripts.

Submitted by Sarah Bachmann
Published: 1911
Call Number: ND3310.H4