Lore and Saga - Living History Education ServicesLore and Saga - Living History Education Services

Specialist in Viking and Roman School Visits for Key Stage Two of the National Curriculum.

Award winning living history services and presentations for classroom education.

Making a Treasure Cover for the Beowulf Codex

2018 - 2021 (Ongoing)

A couple of  years ago I commissioned Alex Summers of Red Swan Books, a wonderful  craftsman, to make me a new “manuscript” of Beowulf. I took delivery in  spring of 2018 at TORM.

Alex Summers of Red Swan Books  -  Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.
Hand finished copy of Beowulf by Alex Summers of Red Swan Books.  - Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

As I expected it was a magnificent copy, in modern English for usefulness today and using a very convincing vellum substitute.

Hand finished recreation of Beowulf Manuscript by Alex Summers of Red Swan Books.  - Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

It is entirely hand finished with period pigments, including gold, and properly bound by Alex as well. Strictly speaking ”manuscript“ usually refers to something entirely hand written although it has stretched to include typewritten.  This is partially printed but many of the letters and all of the illuminations are hand painted. It took me a while to think what else to call it until I remembered the word “Codex” which is an ancient word referring to what we would now call a book.

The  intention has always been to decorate the cover in the style of the great treasure books of the period and for that I had been collecting bronze mounts in the intervening period.

Components for the treasure cover of Beowulf Codex - Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

When the book arrived I was able to start preparations for the work to follow.

The mounts  are to be set onto a plate of brass which will then be attached to the book cover. The drilling and punching of the necessary holes was done in the workshop ahead of taking it to the Heysham Viking Festival where I would be working on it as part of my living history display.

Initial layout for the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

Unsurprisingly I did not get a huge amount of work done at the show while interacting with the public but it is that interaction that is important when putting on a show.

I did get the silver intaglios done and the basic layout marked up though.

I posted earlier about leaving one of Britain’s largest Viking Societies because of their attitude about wearing glasses while demonstrating to the public.

Fine craft work like this is just the sort of thing I now require visual support to achieve and as a result it is the sort of living history that the public rarely gets to see.

The display was hugely popular over the weekend and I spent much of my time explaining how and what I was doing and about the codex itself.  Exactly the kind of educational display I try to provide.

Best Living History Award at the Heysham Viking Festival - Lore and Saga  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

In fact it was so popular that I also managed to pick up the award for the “Best individual living  history display”, which was judged by a secret family group over the  course of the weekend, so I guess I must have been doing something right even if I did happen to be wearing glasses.   ( I also needed glasses for my prize as you can see.)

Chevron borders for Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

Back in the workshop I was able to work faster of course. A couple of  days later I had laid out the divisions properly with a dotted chevron  pattern.

Anglo Saxon Runes on the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

The next day I filled the top  and bottom margins with a square knotwork and inscribed it with Anglo  Saxon Runes, near the spine reading:

Beowulf / I am called

Alex Summers / wrote me

Gary Waidson / had me made

As Wayland / he wrought me

Margins completed for the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

After a days break to do other  things, I completed the right hand margin and bordered the intaglios to marry them in better with the plate.

This may be  as much as I get done for a while, I need to plan the next parts  carefully and I want to save some work for my next living history  presentation which may well be Heysham, a year from now.

Central panel layout for the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

20th March 2020

 

With Britain now in the grip of the Corona Virus the schools have all closed, probably for the rest of the academic year.

It does give me some time to catch up on a few of the projects I have had on the back boiler for a while though.

The first to be completed was the Hrafn Coffer and now this is sitting on my bench again.

The picture  above shows the stage it was at after working on it at the last Heysham  Viking Festival. With the summer looking so uncertain now, I want to  progress it a bit in the workshop now.

Design for cover of the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

This is the design work that is  going to fill the main panels. A mixture of dragons, nicors and serpents which are all mentioned in the text.

The job now is to scribe the lines onto the plate before chasing them. That should keep me busy for a while.

Work in progress on my workbench for the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

In case you were interested in the process here is a picture of my bench, with work in progress. You can see that three sections of the panel have been chased and there are five remaining sections which are just lightly scribed onto the surface.

I usually do this kind of work as demonstrations on living history displays so the bench is a bit  different but the tools are essentially the same.

Most of the work is done with three small chisels, each half the length of the next one. The hammer on the right applies a gentle tap and you move the chisel along the  line.

It is simple enough but does require careful attention. You cannot rub out a mistake here.

Dragons and Nicors completed on the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

This is the main panel completed then.

I’ve just got the minor panels around the edge to fill in now.

Producing the silver rivet heads on the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

Here you can see I am using the cubic dapping block to make the silver rivet heads that will be used to attach the cover to the book when it is finished.

I also used it to dome the boss on the plate you can see to the left of the hammer.

May 2021

I decided this needed something to protect it whilst in transit so I started yet another project, The Wayland Casket.

June 6th 2022

Dot punched background completed on the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

Sometimes I can be a master of procrastination. It has been over a year since I did anything to this and what was stopping me was indecision. I had decided that the main panels on the treasure cover needed something to make the beasts more prominent but couldn't decide how to do it.

As usual, I found that I was not the first to tackle this problem and the solution was at least a thousand years old. I suspected that a dot punched background would do the job but it was a big decision. What if it didn't look right? There would be no going back and the whole piece could be spoiled.

Plenty of reason to put it on the shelf and not think about it for a while.

Well, time waits for no man and I eventually picked it up again and made a start.

In the end I’ve quite pleased with the result.

June 9th 2022

The engraving completed on the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

Well that is the engraving finished at long last.

This is probably the last picture I will post before the base goes off for gold plating.

Grendel's Mother and a Nicor on the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

Here you can see Grendel’s Mother in the top panel and one of the Nicors below.

Grendel and the Dragon on the Beowulf Codex Treasure cover- Image copyrighted  Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.

The Dragon motif in the middle and the “ugly” bronze fitting will represent Grendel while the two faces on the other mount stand in for Beowulf and Wiglaf.