Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts

Navigation Aids

Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts
Search Database

Main Content

About the SDBM

Drawn from over 12,000 auction and sales catalogues, inventories, catalogues from institutional and private collections, and other sources that document sales and locations of manuscript books, the SDBM assists in locating and identifying particular manuscripts, establishing provenance, and aggregating descriptive information about specific classes or types of manuscripts. With thirty-six searchable fields, the SDBM provides broad searching through a range of discrete descriptive properties (see Field Definitions under Help in the left sidebar). Multiple references to the same manuscript are cross-referenced to facilitate the tracking of individual manuscripts. Every effort is made to match records so that the trail of ownership of a given manuscript can be traced from the earliest recorded owner to the present day. The Schoenberg Database is a work in progress, with new material added regularly. Penn Libraries Overseer and rare book enthusiast Lawrence J. Schoenberg, C'53, WG'56, began this project with the intent that it should become an online community resource. To this end, we welcome the input of users regarding all aspects of the database.

History of the Schoenberg-Penn Partnership

In 1997, Larry Schoenberg set out to build a database that would enable researchers to track and identify the world's manuscript books produced before 1600. Larry's primary goal was to provide online access to information on manuscripts. He began with a Microsoft Excel file that was eventually converted in 1999 to a Microsoft Access database. As the database grew, so did its user-base among manuscript scholars and aficionados who worked from copies supplied to them by Larry himself. Its increasing reputation as a research aid in manuscript studies necessitated a move to make it more easily accessible to a wider audience. As a dedicated Penn alumnus, Larry looked toward his alma mater. In 2005, the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI) began hosting the database, where it remains today, freely accessible to all.

Over the years, the database grew through the efforts of Larry and his wife Barbara Brizdle, also a Penn Libraries Overseer. They have been assisted throughout this time by a number of researchers positioned in New York and several European cities. In 2007, the SDBM incorporated the data from the Jordanus Database of Scientific Manuscripts begun by Menso Folkerts of Institut für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften at the University of Munich, raising the number of records to over 125,000.

With the growth of the database, the demands of managing researchers on two continents, and the mounting interest in adding more records to the database, the Schoenbergs and Penn Libraries began a partnership in June 2007 that enabled SCETI to hire new staff to manage, edit, and contribute new records to the database. In addition to their financial support, both Larry and Barbara continue to be involved in its all of its operations, from oversight to data entry and research. The Penn Libraries and SCETI provide professional expertise in the areas of information management, bibliographic standards, and web technologies.

The goals of the partnership are:
  • To transform the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts into a comprehensive, online electronic resource for the study, identification, ownership, and transmission of medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts.
  • To build the database to its estimated potential of 250,000 records.
  • To expand the scope of the database so that it can serve as a "union catalog" of medieval and early modern manuscripts through collaboration and partnerships with other institutions and initiatives.


Project Manager
Lynn Ransom

Web Developer
Dennis Mullen

Programmer Analyst
Jeff Chiu

Project Assistant
Emma Cawlfield

  • Alexander Devine (UPenn)
  • Sarah Tew (Sarasota, FL)

Barbara Brizdle Schoenberg

Current Data Structure

Key Attributes

  • Derived principally from over 12,000 auction, sales, and institutional catalogues
  • Cross referenced to connect multiple references to the same manuscript
  • 35 descriptive data elements per entry
  • No restriction as to language

Data Elements

  1. Duplicate Ms.
  2. Cat. Date (yyyymmdd)
  3. Seller
  4. Buyer/Recipient [New field added on November 30, 2010]
  5. Institution/Collection
  6. Catalogue I.D.
  7. Cat./Lot. #
  8. Price
  9. Sold
  10. Source
  1. Current Location
  2. Author
  3. Title
  4. Language
  5. Material
  6. Place
  7. Use
  8. Date
  9. Circa
  10. Artist
  11. Script
  12. Folios
  13. Columns
  14. Lines
  15. Height
  16. Width
  17. Binding
  18. Provenance
  20. Link
  21. Full-page Miniatures
  22. Large Miniatures
  23. Small Miniatures
  24. Miniatures
  25. Historiated Initials
  26. Decorated Initials

Inherent Limitations

  • Data is taken from secondary descriptions so accuracy is only as good as the original catalogue
  • Traditional medieval data identity issues, such as incorrect dates, size, folio counts, names, titles, etc.

Limitations Minimized By . . .

  • Data standardized and clarified at point of entry
  • Ability to search on multiple characteristics
  • Ability to cross-reference


  • Finding who, when, where for specific manuscript at hand
  • Searching for data on a specific manuscript from only a reference
  • Researching a specific Author, Title or Provenance
  • Researching catalogues

Recent Investigations

  • Davis/Conway update to DeRicci
  • Preparation of new catalogues
  • Searching for stolen manuscripts
  • Research on specific texts (i.e. Roman de la Rose)
  • Checking Rothschild provenance
  • Reconstruction of Specific Collections
  • Economic Analysis
  • Price movement
  • Dealer mark-ups
  • Use of Dealers vs. Auctions
  • Rarity
  • Study in a Specific Field (i.e. Medicine or Alchemy)
  • Reconstruction of partially broken-up MS (but not leaves)


A manuscript listed in a 2005 catalogue of the dealer Sourget, cat 30 lot 4, as Manuscrit enluminé sur peu de vélin was searched in the Schoenberg Database for matches on size and folios, which gave several results. One was selected based on number of miniatures and date.  Original catalogue of suspected match was consulted and found to list identical number of miniatures. Checked against the Sourget 2005 catalogue for match on exact number of lines and incipit.