Here’s a blank table, scored on the back flyleaves of a seventeenth century book.
It’s scored so heavily that the gridlines appear as a blind impression on the four sheets beneath. That’s enough to lay out a whole index, which is exactly what this table is for:
I blogged the other day about the various types of manuscript index one finds in old books: sequential lists or alphabetical indexes; and if it’s the latter, then whether it’s neat or gappy. I’ll have some more to say about the different methods of choosing your headwords – what exactly appears in your table – in a later post, but as a quick aside, here are some observations on how to draw the table itself.
As I mentioned before, if you’re using the one-step method of creating an alphabetical index, it’s not going to look that neat anyway. You’ll probably end up writing smaller and smaller as you try to cram extra entries into a predetermined amount of space, as with this example. But with other kinds of handwritten index, it seems that people did often take pride in their presentation, something which distinguishes indexes from a lot of the other types of annotation you find on flyleaves.
This table for Thomas Overbury’s Characters lists his satirical stereotypes in two neat columns:
We can see, however, that the entries were written freehand, without a grid, as they aren’t quite evenly spaced, and those in the left-hand column don’t always line up with those in the right. So here’s an even neater example where we can see some grid lines drawn in:
The vertical gridlines, of course, are in ink, but if you look very closely, you might be able to see the traces of horizontal lines too. There’s no real mark on the paper here, just a faint indentation, and initially I assumed that it must have been the trace of a pencil line that had been rubbed out. But having seen the Hierocles example, this might well be another example of the writing lines being simply debossed into the paper, rather than drawn out.
What’s clear is that when people indexed their own books, they often took a considerable amount of care over how it looked, and thought about some rather contemporary, word-processy things like whether or not they wanted visible gridlines on their tables.
Finally, as an aside to an aside, speaking of pride in presentation, here’s an example of some handwritten repair work when a page of the printed index has been torn.