We at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies have created a tool that we hope will be useful to manuscript scholars, art historians, incunabulists, and all those interested in the categories and formats of fifteenth century paper, and the impact they had on the sizes of books and works of art as we see them today. We have called this tool the Needham Calculator because it is dependent upon Paul Needham’s classification of categories of fifteenth-century paper.
Here it is: http://needhamcalculator.net
The dimensions of books and works on paper in the fifteenth century are normally given in millimeters. Many people are not fond of millimeters, and for good reason. They are difficult to visualize in quantity (and they are so small that they come in quantity), and the issue is exacerbated in our digital world, through which reproductions are only seen at their original size by accident. We need to be able to visualize the dimensions of a book, a print or a drawing, because this frames the conditions through which the text is read and the image seen. The simple expedient of using centimeters to one decimal place helps in this regard. But more than this, while measuring in millimeters gives the paper’s current dimensions with useful precision, these dimensions more often than not were determined by the binder of a book, or the framer of an image, in a subsequent century. We need to know – if we can find out – the original size of the item, with the implications that this would have for its use, cost, aesthetics, and connoted meanings: will its large scale impress, for example, or will it instead conjure up the poetry of the miniature? Finally, millimeters are an imposed measure that does nothing to reveal decisions made by scribes, artist, and printers, in the creation of their works. The numbers don’t tell us what options were available to them in choosing the size of their paper, nor which ones they actually chose in specific instances.