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Manuscript Waste Bindings at the Library of Congress – Pic of the Week

In this week’s pic of the week post, we catch up with Library of Congress employee Dan Paterson, who is a senior rare book conservator in the Conservation Section of the Library’s Conservation Division. Since 2013, Dan has been surveying book bindings in the Library’s special collections, looking for bindings that incorporate manuscript waste. Manuscript waste is scraps of discarded handwritten medieval books. During the first couple centuries of printing, bookbinders often used manuscript waste to bind books, since it was more economical to recycle discarded vellum than to purchase new binding materials.  According to Dan, “manuscript waste was commonly used on the interior of book bindings as spine linings or fly leaves in Gothic style and later bindings. Eventually binders began to use manuscript waste on the exterior, covering books in vellum taken from dismembered texts.”

A handful of volumes from the Law Library's rare books collection which were selected for the manuscript waste survey

A handful of volumes from the Law Library’s rare books collection selected for the manuscript waste binding survey [Photo by Ken Sigmund]

Dan’s research began after he treated two volumes from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division that were bound in recycled manuscript waste. In the course of their treatment, he noticed that the two volumes had an unusual green degradation product on the vellum covers. He began his binding survey in order to determine whether the same product could be found throughout the Library’s collections on other volumes bound in manuscript waste. He also hoped to discover evidence for any discernible trends in early binders’ use of manuscript waste. Dan will present his findings in a talk at the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts Conference in Copenhagen, April 15th 2016.  The talk is entitled, “A Study of Two Vellum Manuscript Waste Bindings and a Survey of Similar Bindings in American Research Libraries.”

A close-up of the Law Library's copy of Nova Practica Causarum Criminalium of Lodovico Carerio (Venice, 1550)

A close-up of the Law Library’s copy of Nova Practica Causarum Criminalium of Lodovico Carerio (Venice, 1550) [Photo by Ken Sigmund]

Of the 183 volumes so far examined, 26 are Law Library collection items. The images in this post depict some of those items, including my personal favorite (below): a later edition of Giovanni Francesco Balbo’s Tractatus de Praescriptionibus (Lyon, 1532), a treatise on property in Roman Law. What’s nice about this particular copy is that its boards are covered in a well-preserved vellum Hebrew manuscript which has been reversed in order to conceal the text. Nevertheless, the text is still faintly visible through the vellum so that by reading it in a mirror one can identify it as a fragment of a Torah scroll containing Leviticus 22:25-23:43.

Giovanni Francesco The Law Library's copy of Balbo’s Tractatus de Praescriptionibus (Lyon, 1535). The binding is a scrap from a Torah scroll containing text from Leviticus 22:25-23:43

The Law Library’s copy of Giovanni Francesco Balbo’s Tractatus de Praescriptionibus (Lyon, 1535). The binding is made from a scrap of a discarded Torah scroll containing text from Leviticus 22:25-23:43 [Photo by Ken Sigmund]

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