Category Archives: Bindings

Books of Human Flesh: The History behind Anthropodermic Bibliopegy

Not for the faint-hearted, but this older blog post from the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice caught my eye. Using human skin to cover book bindings: Post-mortem punishment, commemoration or celebrity fetishization?

And here’s a more recent post on a pocket book covered in the nineteenth-century body snatcher William Burke’s skin by Lindsey Fitzharris on the same site.

With this cheating post, I’m taking a break from blogging until after Christmas break (i.e. the time to catch up on a load of stuff I should have been writing about ages ago!)

The Chirurgeon's Apprentice

Amongst a collection of medical oddities housed at the Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh lies a tattered pocketbook [left], no longer than the length of a man’s hand. It is dark brown—nearly black—with a pebbled texture and gold lettering that has begun to fade with age. To the untrained eye, it is altogether unremarkable in its appearance. However, upon closer inspection, the words ‘EXECUTED 28 JAN 1829’ and ‘BURKE’S SKIN POCKET BOOK’ come into focus, revealing the item’s true origins.

This is a book bound in the flesh of William Burke, the notorious murderer. Between 1827 and 1828, Burke and his accomplice, William Hare, drugged and killed 16 people for the sole purpose of selling their bodies to the anatomist, Dr Robert Knox. During their murder trial, Hare turned King’s Evidence in exchange for immunity. Burke was eventually found guilty of the murders and hanged before [ironically] being dissected in…

View original post 646 more words

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Bindings

Hatfield House Library Survey (3)

??????????In this post, we return once again to Hatfield for a further selection of highlights from Lord Salisbury’s splendid book collection. This gilt-stamped image of Queen Elizabeth I is a poignant reminder of her close connections with Hatfield and the Cecil family. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Bindings, Hatfield House, Historic Libraries, Provenance Research, Seventeenth century, Sixteenth century

Calke Abbey Highlights (1)

Having just finished another round of cataloguing at Calke Abbey, I thought I’d show you some of my highlights. With the books in the main library fully catalogued (and in the process of receiving conservation treatment – see my last post), I am concentrating on the stores, where there are another ca. 5000 books. Being Calke, when the National Trust took on the property in the mid-80s, there were books everywhere. Some of the spirit of the chaos still permeates the house (posing an interesting conservation challenge of showing a country house in a frozen – permanent – state of decline). Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Bindings, Calke Abbey, ESTC items, Historic Libraries, National Trust, Publishers, Seventeenth century, Sixteenth century

More book conservation goings-on

As promised, a few more impressions of the book conservation fortnight at Calke Abbey! Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Bindings, Calke Abbey, Historic Libraries, National Trust, Preservation and conservation

Pests and other book related misery (2): mould

Mould growth is clearly visible with the naked eye on the front cover of the folio on the left

Mould growth is clearly visible with the naked eye on the front cover of the folio on the left

Mould is unfortunately a very common problem in book collections. It often manifests itself as fluffy white growth on the outside of a binding or on the edges. Mould occurs when airborne fungi spores settle on a surface in still air. This is why you often find it in environments which are in effect a micro-climate with little air-circulation and a high relative humidity (such as closed bookcases). The spores can be inactive for a long time, until the climate is favourable: within a temperature range of 10 to 35 degrees Celsius (the warmer the better) and a high relative humidity (RH) of over 65%, combined with organic material, mould spores will thrive! Mould is also regarded as a health hazard and suitable precautions need to be taken when handling objects affected by it. Serious outbreaks of mould should be treated by trained professionals.

Mould can often be discovered by the naked eye, but usually it is only by shining a raking light over the surfaces that the full extent of the outbreak becomes clear. UV-light tends to be a good tool, although using a simple LED-torch will also work.

Shining a raking light with a UV-torch shows up the extent of the mould growth on the back cover of this folio

Shining a raking light with a UV-torch shows up the extent of the mould growth on the back cover of this folio

Cloth and leather bindings are generally more susceptible to mould outbreaks, although it can sometimes also be found on paper, such as on the edges of a text block (usually because of dust). As with the prevention of insect damage, maintaining a stable environment (as cool as possible) and a RH below 65% is important. Storing books away from external, north-facing, walls is sometimes a good idea, and ventilating areas containing books helps to improve air-circulation. The books in these images were found in the Library at Kedleston Hall, where the collection is kept in historic, Robert Adam designed, book cases. Although these are beautiful pieces of furniture, they do not necessarily provide the best environment for these books. Because the collection is monitored frequently, the mould outbreak was discovered before it had spread to too many books. It was also limited to two book cases which are placed against exterior walls.

Early in February 2014, I assisted Ian Beaumont, a leather conservator, with cleaning these books. In the next post I will talk a bit more about the procedures for treating mould-infested books.

Sources:

  • R.E. Child, Mould (London: Preservation Advisory Centre, 2004, revised 2011) [http://www.bl.uk/blpac/pdf/mould.pdf]
  • The National Trust, Manual of Housekeeping (London: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006), chapters 8 (Biological agents of deterioration) and 42 (Books)

1 Comment

Filed under Bindings, Historic Libraries, Kedleston Hall, National Trust, Preservation and conservation

Pests and other book related misery (1): bugs

800px-Bookworm_damage_on_Errata_page

Extensive larvae damage (Wikimedia commons)

Occasionally, I come across books which have served as a meal for some species of bug. Usually, this is historic damage, but it is always good to be on the look-out for more recent attacks. This is particularly important if books are kept in a damp environment (which is not good for them for a number of reasons!). The most common insect pests which target books are woodborers, such as the furniture beetle (Anobium punctatum), death-watch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) and grazers, such as silverfish (Lepisma saccharina) and booklice (Lipsocelis bostrychophilus).

A larva has obviously made its way through this page. Usually, a woodborer's tunnel can be traced through several gatherings within a book

A larva has obviously made its way through this page. Usually, a woodborer’s tunnel can be traced through several gatherings within a book

The larvae of furniture beetle and death-watch beetle love wooden boards and will also happily eat their way through closed books (see images above). An indicative sign is small piles of frass where the adult beetle has made its way out of the object, but most commonly the only evidence left are the little flight holes on the outside (even on the fore-edge) and the tunnels through the book. These woodborers like a cold and damp environment and within their 2-3 life cycle can cause quite a lot of damage. Keeping the relative humidity (RH) below 55% helps to contain them.

Noon's India (1941)

Insects have clearly targeted inside board edge – probably going for the adhesive used to attach the pastedown to the edge of the paper cover. Interestingly, although the outside of the cover also shows grazing damage, the insects (either booklice or silverfish) appear to have preferred the glue on the inside!

Silverfish and booklice, on the other hand, tend to graze on the surfaces of bindings and paper (see image on the right and below), being attracted by animal-based coatings (such as gelatine sizing on paper, and starch- or gelatine-based adhesives), organic material (i.e. dust), and microscopic mould (more on this particular pest in a later post). Silverfish like a cool, very damp (70-80% RH), and dark environment, while booklice prefer a higher temperature (upwards of 25 degrees Celsius).

Front cover of Noon's India

Grazing on the front cover of Noon’s India.

The ways to prevent insect damage are: to monitor a collection for any activity; to maintain a stable environment with low RH levels; and to keep dust to a minimum.

NB: I am not a book conservator and these observations are based on my untrained understanding of these issues. If in doubt, consult a professional conservator!

Sources:

Leave a comment

Filed under Bindings, Damage to books, Preservation and conservation

Interesting bindings from the Angus Library

Angus 1In Spring 2012, when I did an assessment of the “hidden collection” in the Angus Library (Regent’s Park College, Oxford), I came across a number of interesting bindings. Although some of these books are in need of conservation, their current state gives us an insight into the materials bookbinders might use to cover books. In the first example (above), a piece of textile has been glued on to the centre of the spine – I’m not entirely sure about its purpose.  Was it to strengthen the text block or to hold it together before it was sewn? The thick cords would not have been visible once the spine cover was added. The spine cover of this “quarter binding” was made out of vellum reinforced with printer’s waste. The board covers are out of so-called “Buntpapier” (a German term for paper which is hand-coloured). The book is an eighteenth-century Leipzig publication and this is a contemporary binding.

Angus 2

The second example (on the right) shows a book-length strip of manuscript waste which is used as a sewing support. Normally, it would have been invisible behind the pastedown, which is evidently no longer there in this seventeenth-century publication.

Angus 3Personally, I quite like this one: it is probably an eighteenth-century publisher’s (temporary) binding of felt over paper boards. The felt has evidently been subject to some insect activity and part of the spine cover is lost as a consequence.

The Angus Library was recently awarded Heritage Lottery funding to increase access to its collections. The Library maintains a blog, for which their Antiquarian Cataloguer regularly contributes information on exciting finds. The staff also occasionally mount small exhibitions of books from their collection. To find out more, follow this link. A selection of their treasures is also accessible via this online exhibition.

Leave a comment

Filed under Angus Library, Bindings, Eighteenth century, Seventeenth century

Chronological collections (2)

Front cover Chronological collections

Front cover of Chronological collections, written by Mary Assheton, Lady Curzon, ca. 1755

In an earlier post, I talked about a small quarto volume in the Library at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. This book, an abbreviation of John Jackson’s Chronological antiquities, I believe was written by Mary Assheton, Lady Curzon (1695-1776). Mother of Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Baron Scarsdale (who built the existing mansion), she has never received much attention beyond the fact that she created a rococo garden on the edge of Kedleston estate. However, Mary is gradually emerging as an intriguing character in her own right (Here she is posing as a shepherdess in an Arcadian landscape); I will get back to her in a future post in more detail.

Today, I want to reflect a bit more on the contents of the Chronological collections itself. It is one of those slightly ironic twists of historical research that the copy of Jackson’s Chronological antiquities which was at Kedleston in 1765, was sold at auction in June 1888, as part of a ‘tidying up’ exercise of the book collection. Neither do we have a record of the purchase of the book. Without further research (or more serendipity!), it is therefore impossible to know whether Mary or her husband, Nathaniel Curzon, 4th Baronet (died 1758), purchased the Kedleston copy of the Chronological antiquities, and whether Mary annotated it in preparation for her abbreviation.

What is so fascinating about her project, if we can assume the comment in the Leicester University copy of Chronological collections is correct, is that she wrote it ‘for the use of her sons’. Both Nathaniel and Assheton, his younger brother, were adults in 1755, and Nathaniel had been married for five years. So, Mary could not have written it for their personal education. However, both men (not untypically for their time) were keen to present themselves as well-educated connoisseurs of art, good taste, and fashions, in order to advance themselves in society. Since so much of eighteenth-century British culture relied on a knowledge of ancient history (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Hebrew), but also showed an interest in the exotic (that is, the Far East), Mary’s abbreviation can be read as a quick reference guide to the main civilisations of the past. We are beginning to see that she was a driving force behind the social aspirations of her sons, and that she took an active interest in her son Nathaniel’s building activities at Kedleston from late 1758 onwards.

Although there were two copies of her abbreviation in the Kedleston Library in the nineteenth century, when the National Trust took over ownership in the mid-1980s, only Caroline Curzon’s copy remained. It is possible that the second of the two copies was similarly the victim of the late nineteenth-century auction sales.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Bindings, Eighteenth century, Female authors, Historic Libraries, Kedleston Hall, National Trust, Provenance Research

Chronological collections (1)

IMG_2365This little volume can be found on the shelves in the Library at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, owned by the National Trust. The Hall was built by Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Lord Scarsdale,between 1759 and circa 1790, and it contains some of the most complete, unaltered, and stunning, Robert Adam interiors in the world. The book was actually catalogued by my colleague James Fishwick a few years ago, and because it does not have a title page or anything else obvious to identify it, he added the title from the spine to the catalogue record.

I came across it a couple of years ago, when I was preparing for a Library Open Day at Kedleston and doing some research into the 1st Lord Scarsdale’s family. Looking through the catalogue for provenance information, I found this book, Chronological collections. It had the following inscription on the back of the front flyleaf: “Carolina Curzon, June the 28th, 1756”.

IMG_2366

Carolina, or Caroline, married Nathaniel Curzon in 1750 when she was sixteen years old. She was the daughter of Charles Colyear, the earl of Portmore, one of Nathaniel’s horse racing friends.

Since my initial interest was in Caroline’s education (Robert Adam designed a wonderful bookcase for her private apartment at Kedleston, which was unfortunately sold by the Curzon family in 2002), I decided to investigate this book a bit further. Almost by chance (which is why I love historical research!), I happened to find another copy of the same work in the Special Collections held at the University of Leicester’s David Wilson Library. The Leicester copy similarly lacked a title page, but had the same binding as the item in Kedleston’s library. It also had an inscription, which helped me to identify the contents of the book, as well as the possible author:

The gift of Lady Curzon, widow of Sir Nathaniel Curzon, who abridged Mr. Jackson’s chronology for the use of her sons. Twenty copies only were printed.

Therefore, Chronological collections would appear to be an abridgement of John Jackson’s Chronological antiquities, which was published in 1752 in three volumes (ESTC T136688). The name Curzon does not show in the subscribers’ list, but a copy was in the family’s possession soon after it was published, if the provenance information in the Kedleston copy is correct. It was certainly in the library at Kedleston by 1765.

According to his dedication, Jackson aimed to bring together the histories of all major civilisations in antiquity and to reconcile recorded events with the story of the Old Testament – a very ambitious project, which came in for some criticism the year after it was published.

The author of the abridgement, named as “Lady Curzon, widow of Sir Nathaniel Curzon” in the Leicester copy, could only have been Mary Assheton, Lady Curzon (1695-1776). The item itself looks to be a piece of vanity publishing with a very limited print-run, for distribution among members of the family and perhaps close friends.

Future posts will talk in more detail about Chronological collections and about Mary Assheton.

2 Comments

Filed under Bindings, Eighteenth century, ESTC items, Female authors, Historic Libraries, Kedleston Hall, National Trust, Provenance Research