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.
All the way back in October 2019, I wrote about starting on the treatment of MS E279, Historia flagellantium…De recto et perverso flagrorum usu apud Christianos…Ex antiquis Scripturæ, patrum, pontificum, conciliorum, & scriptorum profanorum monumentis cum curâ & fide expressa, by Jacques Boileau. This volume is the manuscript, dated 1691 and with annotations believed to be in the author’s own hand, for the printed version of the same title published in 1700. Spencer also holds a copy of the printed edition at Summerfield B2655.
The volume was weakened by past water and mold damage and so required especially careful handling throughout the treatment process. After photographing the volume in its pre-treatment condition, I first cleaned the residual mold using soft brushes and low-suction HEPA vacuum, working in our bio-safety cabinet to reduce my exposure to the mold (and prevent contamination of other collection material). After the volume was cleaned, I removed the damaged binding and took apart the sewing.
The most time-consuming part of the treatment involved mending tears, filling losses, and guarding the sections (adding a reinforcing strip of thin Japanese tissue along the fold to strengthen it prior to sewing). The manuscript also has numerous notes and additions pasted in which needed reinforcement or reattaching. Once all the mending was complete, the volume was ready to be sewn and bound. In discussions with Special Collections curator Karen Cook, we considered different options for rebinding the book and settled on a conservation paper case binding, which would provide gentle support for the fragile text.
I sewed the volume with fine linen thread over three cords, adding new endpapers, and added sewn endbands of the same linen thread around rolled paper cores. After lining the spine with Japanese paper, Western laid paper, and linen, I attached a new case of medium-weight handmade paper. The case is attached only by the linen spine linings and by the sewing and endband supports which are laced through the case. The result has an appearance that is similar to and visually compatible with historic limp bindings. This structure has the added benefit of being easily removed if future caretakers of this volume wish to rebind it in a different fashion.
The newly-bound volume is housed in a clamshell box along with the old boards. While this manuscript is still fragile, the repairs and new binding will allow it to be consulted by researchers in the reading room, which was not possible in its prior condition. To view this manuscript or any of Spencer’s collections, you may make an appointment to visit the reading room during our updated hours.
During the summer of quarantine, I constructed quite a few bookbinding models to try out structures I was reading about or hadn’t made before. I decided to finally pursue my dream of constructing a medieval girdle book. This style of bookbinding is most easily identified by an extension of the covering material, which often ends in a knot. The extension and knot allow for the book to be attached to a belt and carried on the person.
Only twenty-three girdle books are known to exist today, but if we judge by their presence in medieval art, they were a popular commodity at the time. Manuscript books were luxury items, so their representation in art signifies wealth and prestige. Because these books were meant to be carried on the body, they are usually quite small.
Girdle books have a lot of components, many of which were difficult to acquire early in the pandemic. So I reached out to bookbinder and teacher Karen Hanmer to see if she would sell me the raw materials. She enthusiastically agreed, sending me every last component to make the book, as well as an in-depth instruction manual. Because I have bound books for many years, the manual was sufficient for completing the project. However, for someone new to bookbinding, I recommend taking her class in person.
The first step was to construct the text block. I folded papers into groups of four sheets each (called a section or quire). A piece of parchment, a type of animal skin, was hooked as an endsheet around the outer sheets of the first and last section. The sixteen sections were pressed under a board and heavy weight. After a few days, I sewed the sections on sets of linen cords, using a device called a sewing frame that holds the cords taut. The sewing structure used on this book is called “packed” sewing, which requires sewing around the double cords and looping around a few times in between each quire to add strength along the spine.
The sewing creates a natural round at the spine. In order to hold that shape, I placed the textblock in a press, further shaped the spine with my fingers, then attached parchment strips between the middle sewing supports with wheat starch paste. The parchment extended beyond the edge of the spine, to be attached to the inside of the boards.
The next step was to sew endbands at the top and bottom (head and tail) of the book. During the medieval era, the endband was sewn on a core (in this case, linen cord) that extended beyond the spine and was laced through the boards to add stability to the book. I chose to sew a primary endband using linen thread wrapped around a linen cord core. This style of endband has the bead (or thread pass-over) on the back. Then I sewed a secondary, decorative endband over it using blue and yellow silk thread, with a bead on the front.
The boards on medieval books were almost always made of wood. I’m not an experienced woodworker, so the wood shaping steps took a lot of time. I shaped the wood at the spine edge to accommodate the round of the textblock spine, on both the inside and outside of the wood piece. The other edges were beveled. Next I marked and drilled holes for the sewing and endband cords to lace through the wood, and chiseled channels between the two sets of holes. A channel was also cut and chiseled to accommodate a strap at the fore-edge
Once the cords were laced through and wedged in place, the book was ready to be covered. Karen offered me a few options, and I chose grey pigskin. I have repaired many books covered in pigskin but hadn’t bound any new ones in the material. As expected, pigskin was tougher and less pliable than calf or goatskin. Once dry, the vellum spine lining extensions would typically be adhered to the inside of the wooden boards. I decided to leave them unattached at the front and adhered at the back, since I will use this model as a teaching tool and I wanted to show steps in the bookbinding process.
To close the book, Karen suggested making a simple clasp from brass rod, with a brass escutcheon pin on the center edge of the top board. The strap is a laminate of pigskin and airplane linen. I laced the strap through the back board and adhered it on the inside in the channel cut into the wood. Medieval books were often written on animal skin, which has a spring to it, so clasps were necessary to keep the book closed.
Karen’s kit was so complete that she even included some finishing embellishments. A contrasting gray leather was used to create the traditional Turk’s head knot that is often found at the end of the leather extension. I decided to create a simple design on the outer covers with a bone folder, and added upholstery tacks as bosses (traditionally used to protect the leather when the book was placed on a surface). Karen thoughtfully even included tiny scraps of parchment to create markers on the edges of the book’s pages.
While this project took many evenings and weekends over a few months, I am very pleased with the results. I will add this model to our bookbinding model collection in Conservation Services, to teach bookbinding history to classes and public visitors.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three months since we began working from home. Since March 18, most University of Kansas employees have been working away from campus as we do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. I wrote about how I filled my time for the first month of work-at-home back in April; it’s now June, so I thought I would check in with an update.
Much like the first month of working from home, I’ve spent most of my time doing online learning, development, and outreach activities, with Zoom meetings and some hands-on work rounding out the mix.
In the professional development area, I’ve attended or viewed no fewer than 18 webinars, online forums, and recorded talks on topics ranging from preservation and conservation, of course, to social justice, wellness, and all things COVID-19 related. Highlights for me have been the series of conservation webinars sponsored by ICON, the professional organization for conservators in the UK; these talks have given me lots of ideas to follow up on when a more “normal” way of working returns. I have also been enjoying attending the virtual AIC – that is the American Institute for Conservation – annual meeting. And an especially powerful Zoom panel hosted by USC on supporting black employees and colleagues provided an intensely personal view, unfiltered by media accounts or editorializing, of how the culture of racial injustice in our country affects black people every day. This most recent national outpouring of emotion about racial injustice has led me to commit consciously to doing my own work to educate myself about racial inequality and to seek out ways in which I can be an anti-racist ally in both my personal and professional life.
I have also been spending time online posting to social media (you can find me @midwestconservator on both Instagram and Tumblr) about what I’m working on at home, and following other conservators and library professionals who are also sharing their remote work activities. Preservation Week was April 26-May 2, and I had a lot of fun designing a series of special infographics to share during that week, focusing on the incredible volume and variety of work done by student employees in the Conservation Services department. I’ve stayed in touch and engaged with my colleagues in the Libraries and the conservation field through a lot of Zoom meetings as well as good old-fashioned emails and phones calls!
To balance all that online time, I’ve kept up with some hands-on projects, with my kitchen table serving as both office and workbench. I’ve been making some small models of limp bindings, and doing a lot of reading to go along with those. I’ve sewn some denim covers for bag weights, and made a small book futon to use at my bench in the lab. I also made myself a pile of masks to wear when I return to working in the lab. The return to campus will be phased, and early stages will certainly require use of face coverings in shared spaces such as the conservation lab.
Angela Andres Special Collections Conservator Conservation Services
This year I have been conducting a survey of part of the Summerfield Collection of Renaissance and Early Modern Books. It is not an exhaustive survey, but rather a cursory look at each volume to determine its general condition, immediately address minor refurbishment or housing needs, and note any issues that can be followed up on in future projects. I have not been recording every small detail, but I still get to handle and glance over each volume, which is a great treat – the Summerfield collection is truly a treasure. Summerfield’s many beautiful bindings, in particular the limp vellum and ornately tooled alum-tawed pigskin bindings, merit their own post someday. But today I want to share some of the hidden gems that I’ve encountered in the course of my work.
This botanical text (Summerfield D519) has the most lovely line illustrations. Wouldn’t they make absolutely wonderful coloring pages?
(Click all images to enlarge.)
Summerfield E397 has two pieces of binder’s waste manuscript fragments taped into the back of the volume. Whoever put a new binding on this volume in the last century saved the fragments from the earlier binding.
Summerfield contains a wealth of pastepapers in classic crumpled-paper and combed patterns.
There are also printed pastepapers in big, bold patterns…
…as well as tiny, delicate printed patterns.
These endpapers with an oversize printed floral design might be made from wallpaper or wallpaper samples.
Here are two examples of colorful decorated text block edges.
It’s always fascinating to get a glimpse of a binding’s structure and the printed or manuscript matter that binders used in their work.
Traces of prior readers, such as this charming handmade bookmark, can be especially thrilling to encounter. Such evidence makes me feel particularly connected to the past and very lucky that I get to do this job!
Special Collections Conservator
This book from Special Collections is really two volumes in one, in what is called a dos-à-dos binding, from the French, “back to back.” As the name implies, these two books share the same back covers, so that no matter how it is held, the reader opens to a front page of text. Geoffrey Glaister in The Encyclopedia of the Book (New Castle, DE: 1996) notes that this style was particularly popular in England in the period from 1600-1640.
Dos-à-dos Binding with green textile tie. Call number A234. Click images to enlarge.
As noted by Matt Roberts and Don Etherington in Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books, these books were “usually small and frequently of a complementary nature.” This is true in the case of this dos-à-dos volume, although there are in fact three titles contained within:
1. The New Testament of our Lord and Sauiour Iesus Christ : London: 1620.
2. The Psalter or Psalmes of David. London : Companie of Stationers, 1625.
3. The whole booke of Psalmes. London : Companie of Stationers, 1620.
This small object would have been handy to take to church to have relevant texts close at hand.
Left: New Testament. Right: Psalter or Psalmes. The Whole Book of Psalmes follows this text. Click images to enlarge.
The volume is bound in leather, with gold-tooled patterns. The edges are gauffered, which is a decorative effect achieved by placing a heated tool or roll on the edges of the paper.
Gauffering on the fore-edge of the paper, made by using a heated tool. Click image to enlarge.