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COTTON LIBRARY: One of the most important collections of medieval manuscripts, the Cotton Library was severely damaged by fire in 1731. Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631) was a Renaissance collector of medieval books, which he assembled in the infamous Cotton Library. In his day, there was no Dewey Decimal System or Library of Congress numbering system, so he ordered his books in a unique manner. He arranged them on a set of shelves; at the top of each section of shelves was the stone bust or carving of figures from classical antiquity, including twelve Roman Emperors, Faustina, and Cleopatra. He then catalogued the books by the bust above them, assigning them a letter to indicate what shelf they were on, and then a roman numeral to indicate the order of the manuscript from left to right. (For instance, a manuscript labeled Cleopatra A. i would be found the first book on the left on the top shelf under the bust of Cleopatra.) Sir Robert's son Thomas enlarged the collection, and later donated it to the British government in 1700. The entire Cotton collection consisted of 958 medieval manuscripts. The books were transferred to Ashburnham house. Unfortunately, the Ashburnham house caught fire in 1731. 114 of the books were utterly destroyed and an additional 98 severely damaged. The remnant was moved to the British Museum in 1753. Both the Beowulf manuscript (MS Cotton Vitellius A.xv) and the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight manuscript (MS Cotton Nero A.x. article 3) were housed in the Cotton Library.



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Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2018. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated April 24, 2018. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.