Who knew that a story about an old wall hanging at a Waterville estate sale would yield quite so much attention?
Over the summer, The Maine Monitor published a story about a recent Colby College graduate who discovered a framed page from a book hanging on a wall at the estate sale. It turned out to be an authentic leaf from what’s known as The Beauvais Missal. The manuscript was written in or near Beauvais, France, in the late 13th century.
The September 18 story about the discovery of the 700-year-old page was widely circulated by The Associated Press, was distributed on social media among medieval manuscript aficionados and picked up by other media outlets including Smithsonian Magazine and Business Insider (thanks to both outlets for crediting the Monitor).
The result: the discovery of more leaves from the missal.
“From the time your piece was published, and then hit the AP and other services, until now, seven leaves have come to light, in South Carolina, Delaware, Kansas, Connecticut, Tennessee, California, and Ohio!’’ wrote Lisa Fagin Davis, the executive director of the Medieval Academy of America.
“All of these owners cited either your story or one of the offshoots as helping them identify the leaf and contact me about it. I’ve never seen so many identifications in such a short time, and I definitely have you to thank for it!” wrote Davis, who is also a professor at Simmons College in Boston.
The Waterville leaf was discovered by Will Sideri, who had taken a course at Colby on manuscripts. When he saw the familiar-looking script at an estate sale in September, he quickly called his former professor, Megan Cook. Later, Davis confirmed it was indeed a piece from the Beauvais Missal.
Sideri bought the framed leaf for $75. Davis estimates it’s worth between $5,000 and $10,000.
The various leaves of the missal were once an intact manuscript, part of a prayer book used by priests for a liturgy centuries ago. The missal was once owned by William Randolph Hearst, the businessman and newspaper publisher who sold it in 1942. Art dealers began removing pages of the manuscript and selling them.
Davis has been piecing together the scattered leaves for several years, and has written extensively about the sleuthing done by herself, other academics, collectors and dealers.
Cook, an associate professor of English at Colby, said she and her colleagues were amazed by the virality of the story. She recalled she would periodically check Twitter and Google after the story was published, to discover it had been picked up across the world.
“I think this is one of those stories that hits the algorithm just right,’’ Cook said. “Once AP picked it up, it went all over the place.”
Sideri, who works in the admissions office at Colby, is having the leaf appraised and reframed. He’ll keep the piece at his parents’ house for safe-keeping until he gets settled.
He’s currently applying for PhD programs, and also fielding a few good natured jokes from friends about his discovery and internet fame.
They tell him, “This is the most Will thing that could happen.”
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the Associated Press had not credited The Maine Monitor in its initial article. The story has been updated.