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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Historic Fingerpainting Seems More Dignified

The volume below contains a wonderful example of paste paper on its binding.  Paste paper is most associated with 16th- and 17th-century books from the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. It was usually created in the bookbinding workshop for books that did not warrant the expense of marbled paper, a luxurious commodity.

Paste paper binding (call # D2304, Vol.107)      Paste paper detail (from call # D3204 Vol. 107)

Left: This 1815 volume from a run of the Spencer Library’s holdings for the periodical Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung has a binding that uses paste paper (Call Number: D3204, Vol. 107).  Right: a detail from the bottom right corner of the volume. Click images to enlarge.

Paste paper was created with starch paste—a staple of any bookbinding operation—and some sort of pigment. Often an implement was dragged through the paper, creating lines that look remarkably three-dimensional.  Once in a while you find a mark of the bookbinder left behind: a finger or thumbprint used to make flowers or other patterns.  There are many instructions for making paste paper, easily discoverable on the internet.

Paste paper detail (Call # MS D38) 
Image of Paste paper detail from Spencer Library's copy of Poem to the Memory of Lady Miller  Paste paper detail (from call # D3254)

Paste paper details from the bindings of volumes in the Spencer Library’s collections. Top left: Tractatus optimus de arte bene moriendi (expanded version by Dominicus Capranica, d. 1458), Germany, 1456. (Call # MS D38). Top right: Saint Bonaventure’s Soliloquium , Germany, 1433. (Call# MS D37). Bottom left: Anna Seward’s Poem to the Memory of Lady Miller by Anna Seward,  1782 (Call Number: D2763). Bottom right: A modern example: Brian North Lee’s Bookplates and Labels by Leo Wyatt, 1988 (Call # D3245). Click images to enlarge.

For more information on paste paper, see Rosamond Loring’s book, Decorated Book Papers; being an account of their designs and fashions (Call Number: C6396).

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

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