Ms. Codex 109, LJS 442, and Ms. Codex 129: Munitions and Explosives

On June 8, Curator Dot Porter brought out three 16th century German treatises on munitions and explosive devices, with many illustrations of the various devices and their uses.

Ms. Codex 109, LJS 442, and Ms. Codex 129 (l-r)

The books are Ms. Codex 109, LJS 442, and Ms. Codex 129. There are two main texts in these manuscripts, although not both books includes both texts. Feuerwerkbuch aka the Firework Book is a text about saltpeter and gunpowder, with a focus on siege warfare, while Buch von den probierten Künsten is an instruction manual for a cannon master. Ms. Codex 109 and LJS 442 contain copies of Buch von den probierten Künsten, including the series of accompanying illustrations, while Ms. Codex 109 also contains a copy of Feuerwerkbuch. While the text in Ms. Codex 129 is also Feuerwerkbuch, it appears that it is actually a compilation from various texts – perhaps including the popular Feuerwerkbuch, which survives in over 55 manuscripts (a translation and contextual essays see The Journal of The Arms & Armour Society, Volume XVII, No. 1, March 2001)

All of the texts describe how to make and use firearms, gunpowder, explosives, and other weapons. All three manuscripts contain multiple illustrations. As mentioned above, the illustrations in the Buch von den probierten Künsten sections in Ms. Codex 109 and LJS 442 are clearly drawn from the same source.

The most striking image is the one that had a bit of fame back in 2013 when it went viral and our curator Mitch Fraas was featured on the NPR show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! – the image of a cat that appears to have a rocket tied to its back, aka #RocketCat (with its less famous friend, #MolotovBird, flying above). One of the attendees of Coffee With A Codex pointed out that although these images are thematically very similar, the cities in the background are completely different – one way that the artists were able to inject some personalization into the stock illustrations.

Ms. Codex 129 is quite different! The illustrations – cannons designed to handle various sizes of cannon balls – seem to be much more practical, and are accompanied by tables and measurements.

There’s so much to these manuscripts! To find out more, watch the full Coffee With A Codex recording on YouTube.

You can find the records for these manuscript, which link to full digitized copies, on Franklin:

We host Coffee With A Codex every Wednesday at 12pm EDT / 5pm BST on Zoom. For a schedule three weeks ahead, visit our main page here. If you would like to receive weekly emails to remind you about upcoming Coffee With a Codex meetings, sign up for our email list here.

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