The German term Sammelhandschrift has been adopted by scholars writing in many languages to describe a kind of manuscript whose contents seem to require explanation in a way that other manuscripts, such as those containing Virgil’s Aeneid or the Gospels, do not. Sammelhandschriften require explanation because it is not clear why the material they contain forms a coherent unit. We are accustomed to single manuscripts – or printed books, for that matter – that contain the Aeneid or the Gospels, but not to manuscripts or printed books with different texts on different subjects in a single book. In other words, we need an explanation because the unity implied by the single physical object is at odds with the disunity of the parts that make it up. This lack of unity can result either from the contents of the manuscript (different subjects or authors) or its material constituents (written by different scribes at different times or different places).
That seems quite clear until we realize that Sammelhandschriften are only a special case. Materially, very few manuscripts are composed of a single unit: almost all consist of one or more codicological units bound together. And these units may be written by different scribes or at different times or places. The same applies to the contents: the Aeneid may be a single work by a single author, but it is composed of units (libri) assembled by the author. And Augustine shows us that authors accustomed to the codex form were sensitive to the ways the material and textual forms matched. The four works that comprise the Gospels are all by different authors and T. C. Skeat argued that putting them together as the ur-Sammelhandschrift encouraged the Christian adoption of the codex. In this case the collection of disparate material was intended to enforce unity, which is why we don’t see the Gospels as a Sammelhandschrift: it worked. Historically, therefore, the technological possibilities of the codex are central to Sammlung, whether or not explanation is required.
To explore these issues I’ll look at the catalogue of books from the library in Sankt Gallen contained in Sankt Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek 728, from which a fair copy was made in Stiftsbibliothek 267, to ask how Sammelhandschriften were seen by those using them and to look at the material conditions in the library that may have fostered the creation of such manuscripts.