Rare book of the month: Bookbinding and Manuscript Waste

Cropped image of manuscript wasteOur annual Warren Lecture is coming up on Thursday March 7, 2019 (free; register here), with Professor Alexandra Gillespie on “The Book and the Silk Roads.’ Professor Gillespie was recently awarded a 1.25 million dollar grant by the Andrew Mellon Foundation to study the early development of bookbinding. Instead of featuring a specific title for our rare book of the month, we’ll look at a related concept in the study of bookbinding–manuscript waste.

What is manuscript waste you ask? It may seem surprising, but the book as a physical object was not always as valued to previous generations as much as the contents or ideas they contained. Manuscript or binding waste refers to the practice of recycling unwanted or poor condition manuscripts, often medieval, for use in the production of the binding for an unrelated title. This enabled bookbinders to economise on using new materials by deconstructing older manuscripts and using the parchment for endpapers or flyleaves; reinforcing or lining the book spines; or sometimes as a decorative element on book exteriors.

In some cases, manuscript waste fragments represent the only remaining evidence of particular titles. As a result, an increasing number of scholars have recognized it as a potentially rich source of information on the development of print culture and book production.

Like many libraries, we’ve been working on a project to upgrade our oldest catalogue record descriptions for early modern titles to reflect the importance of binding information to researchers, including noting the existence of binding waste. Here are some recent examples that we’ve uncovered:

Franciscus, and Bernardino Rizzo. 1492. Quadragesimale doctoris illuminati Francisci de Mayronis. Venice: Bernardinus Rizus, Novariensis. http://go.utlib.ca/cat/1447848

This incunabulum in our Wycliffe College Rare Books collection contains almost imperceptible tiny strips of manuscript waste in Latin to reinforce the binding.

Sermones parati de tempore et de Sanctis. 1486. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified]. http://go.utlib.ca/cat/1447854

Another title from the Wycliffe College Rare Books collection demonstrates an example of manuscript waste used as endpapers. We have yet to examine it closely but it appears to be a list or index.

Our final  example comes from Fulke, William. 1589. The text of the New Testament of Iesvs Christ: translated ovt of the vulgar Latine by the Papists of the traiterous seminarie at Rhemes….Imprinted at London by the deputies of Christopher Barker, printer to the Qveenes most excellent Maiestie, 1589. http://go.utlib.ca/cat/1519034

As one can see by the somewhat rumpled cover, at some point this book has gotten wet (not on our watch we might add!) causing the manuscript waste  to lift from its board revealing this historiated initial that had been pasted down. Unfortunately accidental damage to books has often been the only way that manuscript waste can be uncovered, though a number of researchers are exploring non-destructive methods to study this evidence.

By Kate MacDonald, Cataloguing & Digital Services Librarian.

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