Whence the Manicule

I have long been fascinated by medieval manuscripts, incunabula, and early books in general. Recently I stumbled upon a number of images that included manicules within text margins and thought —whence the manicule.

The manicule, , is a typographic mark with the appearance of a hand with its index finger extending in a pointing gesture. Originally used for handwritten marginal notes, it later came to be used in printed works to draw the reader’s attention to important text. 

The term manicule comes from Latin (maiculum) and means as much as small hand or pointing hand. The symbol is first used in the Domesday Book of 1086, which contained a comprehensive overview of all possessions and owners in England before and after 1066. It was commissioned by William the Conqueror for tax purposes. From then on, the symbol was used in the margins, margins of manuscripts, to indicate corrections or notes. This manicule was a popular symbol and they became more and more beautiful. Sometimes it was an ordinary bare index finger, sometimes with a beautiful cuff, sometimes with a crooked index finger.

After the printing press was introduced in the 15th century, the hand-drawn manicule continued to be used to indicate improvements to be made, or to point out an error in the text. Later, the pointing hand became more popular in publications, advertisements and signage. Even the U.S. Postal Service used the manipulative symbol when the letter was misdelivered and had to be returned to Sender .

In the 19th century the manicule became a popular typographic symbol . Today, the manicule is a standard typographic symbol intended to draw the reader’s attention to important text.


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A Hieroglyphic Travel Guide

Regular visitors to Travel Between The Pages may recall that my niche market as a bookseller has long been travel guides and travel literature. I recently discovered this unique 1815 travel guide to Madeira and the Caribbean that is illustrated with a series of supplemental plates that contain sort of a first-mate’s log and the account of parallel trade voyage pictographically—with hieroglyphs, as the author states. These small drawings capture the sailor’s daily events during an 1814 voyage with a rather unusual story-telling device for the era and prefigure the concept of scripting in emojis.

The volume is titled The Traveller’s Guide to Madeira and the West Indies. Being a hieroglyphic representation of appearances and incidents during a voyage out and homewards. … With a treatise explanatory of the various figures, etc; 1815; Haddington, G. Miller and sons. The clever book employs a series of “hieroglyphic” plates to frame an account of a trade voyage. The illustrated pages display a calendar-like grid, for each day either a dot, to connote nothing of importance happened, or a little illustration summing up that day’s events. For a further explanation of these “emblematic figures” the author offers an “Explanatory Key”, which reads ostensibly as a regular journal recounting highlights from the course of days, except rather than under the headings of dates, they relate directly to the pictures and are so numbered. According to its anonymous author, referred to only as “a young traveller”, the plates came first, the motive for which was a “deficiency of time to note down my observances as they occurred”.

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Where do you find book recommendations

I don’t know about you, but I’m picky when it comes to book recommendations. It’s certainly helpful to have friends with highly developed reading tastes who make book suggestions. And of course there are the book review sections of trustworthy periodicals. But sometimes it’s nice to get random book picks. Enter the website Recommend Me A Book . It’s based on a simple premise – a series of first pages of novels, presented with no information about the title or author, so you can simply see whether the prose grabs you enough to want to read more.

So the first time that I took it for a spin, this was the initial result:

“A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, central London hatchery and conditioning centre, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, community, identity, stability.

The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose-flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables.”

It took a hot second for me to recognize the iconic opening to Brave New World. Obviously any book recommendation website that randomly suggests Aldous Huxley’s classic on the first outing is A-OK with me.

The only catch to Recommend Me A Book is that the site provides a link to puchase the suggested books through the indie selling webportal Bookshop, if you are so inclined.



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Illustration Chronicles

I recently discovered the amazing website Illustration Chronicles: which explores a history of illustration through the images, illustrators and events of the past 175 years. Periodically the editors select a topic to explore. These concepts, such as music, satire, war, and animals, inspire the examples of illustrations that get selected. The project aims to champion the medium and bring some inspiration, insight and knowledge to readers everywhere.

Even if you have just a passing interest in illustration, I think that you will find that Illustration Chronicles is worth a visit. I intend to bookmark the site and return on a regular basis.

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Sunday Funnies


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“Ten percent of what I write is immortal”

You Never Had It – An Evening with Bukowski is a documentary from director Matteo Borgardt that transports you back to January 1981 for an intimate evening conversation with legendary writer and poet Charles Bukowski at his San Pedro home. The documentary features never-before-seen footage from the writer rediscovered by producer/journalist Silvia Bizio in her garage 20 years after Bukowski’s death. Bukowski, Bizio and friends smoke cigarettes and drink wine over a languorous evening that provokes intimate discussions of sex, literature, childhood, and humanity from the irreverent writer and poet himself.

NB: If for some reason the video does not play in your email version of TBTP, please link to the home page.

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How Far Can You Go

I’ve run across quite a few stories about this very neat website over the past week or so and thought that TBTP followers would be interested.

How Far Can You Go By Train in 5h? is an interactive map which shows you how far you can travel from any European rail station in less than five hours. Hover over any location on this map (within the highlighted area in Europe) and you can view an isochrome layer which shows you how far you can travel by train in hourly increments. The nearest train station (from which travel times are calculated) is highlighted on the map in black.

The travel time data used to power the isochrone layers comes from direkt.bahn.guru. The map assumes that any interchange between two different trains is a blanket 20 minutes and that travel between two interchange stations will be undertaken at a little over walking speed.

h/t to Maps Mania for this little trip down the rabbit hole.


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Towards Balance

I continue to be amazed by the spectactular land art created by the French mural artist known as Saype. He recently unveiled unveiled a new artwork in the Swiss Alps, near Villars-sur-Ollon, called “’Vers l’équilibre” (Towards balance) which depicts a little girl stacking a pile of books.

His enormous murals are created with biodradable products that are environmentally friendly. Like most of Saype’s work, this piece near the summit of the Grand Chamossaire mountain, above the alpine resort of Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland, is best viewed by drone.

“Vers l’equilibre”. Grand Chamossaire mountain. Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland. (photo © Valentin Flauraud for Saype)


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Death and Mayhem in National Parks

Over recent months, it seems that there has been a story about tourists in Yellowstone National Park being gored by bison, mauled by bears, bitten by wolves, or scalded by steaming pools every week. In most cases the deaths and injuries have been the result of foolhardy visitors who don’t follow park rules. Americans have devolved into a traveling circus of rubes, yahoos, and morons who seem to view everyplace as an extension of Disney World. Now, on the occasion of Yellowstone National Park’s 150th anniversary, Cowboy State Daily published a map and list of maulings, scaldings, and murders that have occurred at the park. The stories of fatal accidents are mostly gleaned from the book Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park.

Yellowstone has many dangerous attractions, especially the geothermal features like geysers and boiling hot springs that tourists fall into and sometimes jump into. Others want to get close to the bison or the bears, with deadly results. Sometimes hikers and camper simply fail to take recommended precautions with dire results. You can read about some of the mayhem, and download the map here.

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How many more times will you watch the full moon rise?

Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

— Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky, 1949

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