The inventory of 1472, a reference catalogue

For the library of the abbey of Clairvaux, it was the chance to own a complete inventory just before the entrance of printed documents into the collections.
This document, finished in May 1472, is both a title deed, an instrument for the management of the library and a methodical catalogue, where books are distributed according to all the branches of knowledge.

This manuscript of 140 pages is covered with small, abbreviated writing. It describes every manuscript in its material as it would be for an object of the treasure; this description was supposed to identify it, if it was stolen.

The essential element of the description is the statement of the first words of the second page and the last words of the last but one page. This process which was inaugurated in the library of Sorbonne during the XIIIth century became very usual during the XVth century, giving great pleasure to historians. Indeed, the former quotations which had often disappeared, these statements are the most important indication to identify the described works. The writer of the inventory also indicates the size of the volume, its aspect and even the writing.

This catalogue is also an instrument of management for the library as all the manuscripts are registered under their quotations (a letter from A to Z, then a number from 1 to 90). There were also unused quotations which were reserved in anticipation of future acquisitions..
This catalogue was an intellectual construction, which was very well-thought out, as all the manuscripts are distributed to all the branches of knowledge: from the Bible and its comments up to the liturgical books and even the enumeration of the university disciplines. The catalogue is organized into a hierarchy: each of its sections contains subdivisions; it also contains a system of report and constitutes a real help to the reader.

It both brings information concerning the distribution of books (between the two cabinets and the library) in the monastery and on the books’ origins.

This extremely precious instrument also represents an unequalled testimony of the effort of inventory which was led by both of the Cistercians. Clairvaux is participating in a movement. In that way, in 1480, an inventory of the books of the abbey of Cîteaux was realized. Then, the library of the abbey had 1200 manuscripts (including liturgical volumes).