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A Folding Almanac, a Portable Medieval English Information Retrieval Device

Circa 1415 to 1420

On November 20, 2013 Christie's auctioned an English folding almanac in London.  This they described as a previously unrecorded example in its original embroidered cloth binding.  

A portable compendium of calendrical, computational, medical and astrological material intended to be worn hanging from the body, probably handing from the belt at the waist,  the folding almanac—or vade mecum, girdle book, physician's calendar—was one of the earliest portable information retrieval devices.

"Although the Faltbuch and various livres plicatifs were present in Europe at this time, by all accounts the compression of this specific type of data into a portable format seems to have been an exclusively English phenomenon of the late 14th and 15th centuries. Twenty-nine other such manuscripts survive, ten of which are in the British Library, with only one other in private hands (Talbot private collection, see C.H. Talbot, 'A Mediaeval Physician's vade mecum', Journal of the History of Medicine, 16, 1961). Of these, the present manuscript is the only one to preserve its contemporary, bright, decorative soft binding in a near-original state; the remnants of the Turk's head indicating how it would have been worn hanging from the body, likely attached to a belt at the waist. Hilary M. Carey discusses the importance of the folding almanac as a facilitator for the development of more sophisticated astro-medical practice of the later age and gives a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the twenty-nine other extant folding almanacs in her recent articles on the subject ('A Key Manuscript Source for Astro-Medical Practice', SHM vol. 16, no 3, 2003 and 'Astrological Medicine and the Medieval Folded Almanac', SHM, vol. 17, no 4, 2004" (Christie's Sale 1160, 20 November 2013, Lot 52).

Also in 2013, Rebecca J. Rosen published "Book as Mobile Device: No Really, a Medieval Almanac That Attached to your Belt," The Atlantic, march 6, 2013. This contained several fine illustrations.  Images of another English folding almanac are available in the British Library's digitized version of Harley MS 3812.

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