Palaeography

            Transcribing an Early Modern Household Recipe!

Reading someone else’s handwriting can be a daunting task in any occasion, however, when coupled with old italic handwriting and phonetic spelling the text in front of you may even appear as completely unreadable at first glance. trust me, we’ve all been there! luckily for you I have put togethere some of the most important rules to follow when reading old handwriting. so whether you’ve got an essay due or you simply enjoy looking at old recipes then look no further.

First of all, it is important to look at the text as a whole, this is due to the phonetic spelling which was followed by most people. There was also no standardised spelling of the English language until the 18th century so noting the date of the text can help with identifying specific words. Try to identify the different letters which may sometimes occur in random order. it is also helpful to find out where the text was written as regional accents affected the spelling of words. Sounding out the word in the accent of the author can both fun and helpful so don’t be shy. Identifying the type of text you are looking at can also help to predict which phrases or words are likely to appear. However, if you struggle to identify the word straight away, you can label it as a question mark and come back to it later.

Once you’ve had an initial look at your chosen document you may have identified some emerging patterns between the letters, here are some things to look out for: The writing of ‘Y’ and ‘I’, ‘I’ and ‘J’, ‘U’ and ‘V’, ‘S’ and ‘F’. In the example below you can see what looks like a long ‘f’ in the writing style of ‘please’ and ‘of’. Although these letters look awfully similar they represent ‘S’ and ‘F’ where appropriate so its important to be careful.

Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750.: folio 27 verso || folio 28 recto

Another important thing to know is the meaning of superscript letters which is represented with a single letter followed by a raised smaller one such as this ‘Wt‘. these are just a shorter way of writing a word with ‘Wt‘ meaning ‘with’, ‘Wth‘ meaning ‘which’, and ‘Mr’ meaning ‘master’. The example below shows how the word ‘which’ may appear in the text.

Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750.: folio 27 verso || folio 28 recto

Thorn is also important to look out for which is represented by letters such as ‘Y’ which stands for ‘TH’, ‘Ye‘ which stands for ‘THE’ and ‘Yt‘ which stands for ‘THAT’. The example below shows how the word ‘THE’ could be represented in your chosen document. However, it may not be clear straight away which thorn is being used, therefore, it is important to keep coming back to the text with a fresh perspective for further analysis.

Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750.: folio 27 verso || folio 28 recto

In sources such as recipes, account records, town registers etc numbers can be represented in Roman numerals as the standard ‘I’=’1’, ‘II’=’2’. However, when written in English documents these numbers may look more like ‘j’=’1’, ‘ij’=’2’ etc. This will depend on your particular document. If you’re looking at a will or a similar type of document then understanding the money calculations which were used is a useful tool to have. A Pound is marked by ‘li’/’£’ and is equivalent to 20 Shillings. A Shilling is marked by an ‘S’ and is equivalent to 12 Pennies. A Penny is marked by a ‘d’ and is equivalent to 2 Halfpennies.

Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750.: folio 27 verso || folio 28 recto

The above example however, shows that there wasn’t a standardised way of writing anything, so to fully understand a text you will have to play around with it, maybe even ask your friend to look over it too, just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. However you choose to tackle this task, make sure to take your time and don’t give up! Happy transcribing.

  1. https://transcribe.folger.edu/transcription.php?id=Transcribathons/EMROC/Va429/Va429.xml&srcid=Va429&sfcid=RF-127340&wid=agne stradomskyte&dir=Transcribathons/EMROC/Va429
  2. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/where_to_start.htm
  3. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/quick_reference.htm

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