The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 5
Jul 1988

Local Initiative Results in a Week of Fine Training

by Jane McC. Brown

Last summer an interested group from Charleston, South Carolina, invited English bookbinder/conservator James Wayre to come to South Carolina for a week to teach bookbinding and conservation, at the suggestion of Jane Bruce Brooker, a friend and former student of his. After two years of obstacles, delays, and schedule changes, the efforts of four institutions and seven individuals finally brought Mr. Wayre to Charleston in June 1987.

The Waring Historical Library of the Medical University of South Carolina sponsored Mr. Wayre's coming, and his work visa was arranged through the University, which often does this for visiting professors. The Dudley Vaill Memorial Bindery of the Gibbes Art Gallery provided the workshop space and accommodations for Mr. Wayre. The tuition fee (which some paid privately and some had paid for them by their institution) covered his plane fare and honorarium.

There were six participants in the one-week workshop: Oliver Smalls, librarian at the Robert Scott Small Library at the College of Charleston; Sharon Bennett, librarian at the Charleston Museum; Marie Hollings, Records Manager for the County of Charleston; Betty Newsom, Curator, Waring Library; Jane Brown, associate curator of the Waring Library and volunteer supervisor of the Dudley Vaill Memorial Bindery; and Barbara Belkmap, a local binder.

Each of the participants had had some previous bookbinding/conservation training, bet none was a full-time binder. Each participant selected materials of special interest from his own field to work on. The selections were diverse and each project was of interest to all, so the participants moved from project to project and learned from others' work as well as their own.

Some of the projects/topics covered or approached were burned books (spine burned to the extent that trimming was required and sectioning reproduced), cleaning vellum and leather bindings, restoration and repair of books of all ages, and titling and finishing.

In addition to our hands-on work in the bindery we also took Mr. Wayre around to visit some of the libraries and museums in Charleston, where we discussed specific problems and concerns.

James Wayre is the binder/conservator at Canterbury Cathedral in England, where he cares for a heavily-used collection of 48,000 books and about a million documents. His apprenticeship was in the British Museum; he has also worked in H.M. Stationery Office on restoration, and in the House of Lords Library and Record Office. He holds the Society of Archivists Diploma in Conservation, and has taught at Barking College of Technology as well as in adult evening classes in Canterbury. In 1985 he received one of two Archival Aids Awards for innovative conservation, for a rotating map repair drum.

Mr. Wayre' s training and experience offered the opportunity to pick up on a number of "helpful hints," and reinforce the knowledge that our basic training is well grounded in the English tradition. We also learned that other areas do not have the conservation problems that Charleston does. Charleston has all problems--bugs of all varieties, mold, humidity, and temperature. The British are safety conscious, but not as concerned with the cancerous hazards of chemicals as we in "the colonies." The comparisons of the "two worlds" was endlessly interesting.

This participant felt that the week was very rewarding but definitely not long enough. Having never done binding from nine to five for five full days, I fully expected to finish work on 10 projects, but didn't completely finish even one. Much of my time was spent watching and listening as Mr. Wayre worked or talked through the other five participants' projects. I look forward to the next week or so in this type of concentrated binding environment, which we are working toward for August of 1988.

[Editor's postscript: In a call to the author after this was typed, I asked her if perchance these participants had all once studied under Inez Pennybacker, because I had noticed that former students of the same bookbinding teacher tended to continue associating--e.g., the former students of Mariana K. Roach in Dallas. Ms. Brown said Yes, everyone who attended had gotten basic bookbinding knowledge from Inez Pennybacker at some point; Barbara Belknap, in fact, had studied under Ms. Pennybacker's predecessor. For 15 years Ms. P. (who lived in Connecticut) came down and taught for the six weeks preceding Thanksgiving, and again for the 10 weeks just before Easter. She lives in Rockville, Maryland, now.]

clemnewsletter 1 In English

Translated by Gretchen Karl
Collections Maintenance Librarian, Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, Santa Monica


I.. Announcement Of The Census Of Medieval Bindings Preserved In Italian Libraries

Editorial by Maria Lilli Di Franco, Acting Director of the Bulletin of the Istituto per la patologia del libro [of which this newsletter is a supplement]

The group of young collaborators, to whose enthusiasm we owe the publication of this issue, has invited me to put out the first number of the clemnewsletter. I naturally accepted with great pleasure, since I have been long convinced of the validity of a rapid means of communication which seems the best way to assure prompt and broad dissemination of information in a field. The gamut of our correspondents, by committee, is quite broad since it includes (in addition to the state and other libraries), public and private restorers, not to mention the numerous Italian and foreign scholars who follow with interest our growing activity.

CLEM stands for Censimento delle LEgature Medievali (Census of Medieval Bindings), an undertaking launched in 1985 with small means and much good will. As you will read further on, we have still to conclude the first phase, the purpose of which is to identify the libraries which preserve medieval bindings, and to tell which of their bindings are from the medieval period. For this task we believed we could count on the collaboration of the librarians and in large measure, to my mind, our confidence has been justified. There are, it is true, situations in which local efforts may prove to be insufficient; in these cases we hope to be able to bring in our specialists so as not to delay the research.

Once the first phase is complete, we will have to describe and document, however, in extreme detail, the individual bindings. To do this well takes time and therefore money. For this we have presented the project of the census as an operation intimately tied to the preservation, to the conservation and to the restoration of the Italian heritage of the book so that the possibility of adequately financing clem through funds put at the disposition of recent legislation can be evaluated. I think it is necessary, before concluding, to express hearty thanks to those who believe in our initiatives and are helping us to carry them forward. Particular thanks go to the librarians who have participated, in every way, in the census. Their criticisms, their advice, but above all the thousands of questionnaires rich in precious information about bindings, represent the best acknowledgement of our work: work which must overcome daily many structural and human obstacles and in which every minimal step exacts a dear price in terms of sacrifice and of personal involvement; work which we love, if possible, more today than yesterday because we are finally realizing that the young have begun to believe again in those human and professional values that have guided our existence; we take pride in this.

II. CLEM And Vicinity

Editorial by Carlo Federici

What we are setting forth in these pages is the fruit--far from full maturity--of an inquiry launched a couple of years ago with the objective of singling out and describing the medieval bindings in Italian libraries.

The abandonment of conceptions based on typological orbit or geographical confines is due to the necessity of adequately safeguarding the objects of the survey: such conceptions would only bind the plan of the entire undertaking to a tendentious exhaustiveness. The enquiry has therefore been directed--or the attempt has been made to do so--to all Italian libraries in which medieval bindings might possibly exist.

Scientific Research and Preservation

One of the lynch-pins of our initiative is that of recovering first-hand information (and this last point verges on the obvious, seeing that no one before us has concerned themselves with this area) about the materials and techniques used in the manufacture of the early book. It seems superfluous to pin down in this forum the relationship of the archeology of the book to conservation and above all to restoration. Equally understood is our conviction that the archeological disciplines, defined in their widest sense, find their ideal terrain for cultivation in the sphere of interdisciplinary groups such as the one that has promoted the census.

The aims that inform the activity of the Istituto centrale per la patologia del libro--that is to say, awareness, preservation and restoration--mesh perfectly with the aims of the survey. The description of individual bindings is in fact secondary in our intentions to the recording of the principal environmental parameters of the places of conservation and to the pointing out of the eventual necessity of treatment of the object being described.

Thanks to the census, it will finally be possible to gather quantitative as well as qualitative data that will be hard to ignore (many measurable determinations can be made on bindings and their components). The elaboration of this data, through instruments at the disposal of the statistical sciences, can emit a ray of light in the profound darkness in which the history of binding and the archeology of the book remain immersed.

Carrying out the Project

After having given a picture of the potential of the census, it is necessary to address briefly the reasons why still today it has remained just that. To speak of a lack of interest in books in general and for early books in particular is easy but also too simplistic. In reality we are paying for a certain inability--which, we must admit, is ours alone--to form a strong enough consensus on a project of scientific research for the understanding and preservation of early books. We don't know if politically the time is ripe; we are sure, however, that to wait longer for the technical climate to develop would be to incur grave risks for the surviving materials rendered ever more precious and rare by the passage of time.

A glance at the charts on pages 4 and 5 [not reproduced here] can clarify the terms of relationship between restored and nonrestored bindings. [Briefly, they show the extreme rarity of volumes from the 13th century and earlier; the tendency of restored limp vellum bindings to be given some other type of binding; an apparent tendency of restored volumes to have more cords than unrestored ones from the same period; and a tendency for restored volumes to have squares more often than unrestored ones from the same period.] Is it necessary to note that--in the half millenium which separates us now from the latest medieval bindings--restoration has not always been an unmixed blessing? The difficulties which up to now have interfered with the completion of the project are due among other things--as our Director has noted--to the necessity of devoting considerable funds to the undertaking. In order to seriously carry forward the census it is in fact required:

a) to train the investigators employed in the description of the bindings (the indispensable skills can only be acquired through the juxtaposition of knowledge gained from quite disparate sources);

b) to furnish the investigators with the necessary equipment for their work;

c) to reimburse them in a fair manner;

d) to organize the assembled data in such a way as to be able to draw from it information and indications useful for scholars as well as for those working in the field.

And here, in substance, our competencies end and the contribution we can make to the material completion of the census is exhausted, or nearly so.

Libraries and Librarians

All the libraries in which one can presume the presence of medieval bindings have received a questionnaire, formulated for the purpose of verifying such a presence and of ascertaining, in a rough way, the "medievalness" of the bindings.

If one considers that the first mailing of the questionnaires was made in June of 1985 and that we have received responses to date from 37% of the institutions polled, one can see that the majority of librarians have not yet become fully aware of the challenges to the safekeeping of the earliest materials. In contrast to this less-than-marginal involvement--due, we are fully aware, to diverse causes which it would be unjust and nearsighted to attribute solely to weak professional conscience--stands the flattering response of an elite group of librarians not to be underrated either from the point of view of quantity or of quality.

Fully 103 libraries have sent us the questionnaires relative to all of the medieval bindings preserved in these institutions [as of Fall 1987]. We have enjoyed distilling a sort of classification based on the number of bindings identified: First place goes to the University of Padua with 306 records, followed by the National Central Library of Rome with 169 and, nearly on a par, by the Este [library] of Modena with 168; back a short distance we find the Archepiscopal of Udine (143 records), Civic of Vicenza (116), Capital of Verona (111) and City of San Sepolcro (103). Here we stop, not without emphasizing, however, that fully 17 libraries have reported the presence of a single medieval binding. We wish to personally thank all of our correspondents, asking forgiveness for, and reporting of, any possible omissions or errors.

Many other libraries have begun the work and have sent us a part of the questionnaires. We are grateful also to them and await with confidence the next "installments."

An excellent service has also been rendered by the libraries in which it has been possible to exclude the presence of medieval bindings. We have been rather perplexed, however, when someone, while adhering in spirit to our initiative, has communicated the impossibility of furnishing us information due to lack of time, personnel and so on. We well know that such shortages exist and are not to be underestimated, but what we are finding is that the very institutions with the greatest problems are the ones which have responded with alacrity to our invitation. It is useless to confirm that these libraries could be representative of those 63% which, although invited and solicited, continue to show no sign of life. It hurts to say it, but among these are important state libraries for which it would appear hard to demonstrate the impossibility of finding a librarian disposed to dedicate some weeks to the examination of the collections of manuscripts and of incunabula in order to single out "suspected" medieval bindings.

This writer has carried out the same work on the Vatican manuscript collections--the primacy of which, in all fields, is beyond question--employing about ten days to complete the operation. The same reconnaissance in the University Library of Bologna required a single afternoon, at the end of which, among some thousand manuscripts and incunabula, a list was compiled of a hundred bindings. (Still, through some misdirection the mature of which is unknown, we have not yet received a single questionnaire from this library.)

... The compilation of the questionnaires does not require more than ten minutes or so per binding.

Collection and Utilization of Data

We have said that this first phase serves essentially to identify the presence of medieval bindings in the libraries and that the characteristics recorded on the questionnaire can be useful for the correct placement within the time period that interests us.

As for the principle objective of this phase of the census, it was planned to insert all the data furnished by the librarians into a data base governed by a special program.

Automation, there, is being used as a tool capable of storing a large quantity of data, bringing together (and sorting) pieces of information rapidly in order to verify the correctness and, as a consequence, the eventual practicability of innumerable research hypotheses. At the moment this modus operandi seems to us to have few drawbacks and to be rich in new stimuli: we do not mythicize the processors, but neither do we demonize then. We limit ourselves to making use of them after having learned, at some sacrifice, their language.

We still have many questions to ask concerning this inquiry, as well as projects related to it which are being formulated, but for now we prefer to stop here.

We will speak again of them, we hope, soon.

Iii. [The Questionnaire]

[The four-page questionnaire, which has a drawing of a medieval binding with all parts labeled on the front page,

is translated here in full except for the paragraphs that explain each question and define the terms it uses.]

1. Library  
1.1. Location...................
2. Shelf number............
  2.1 Leaves of __ Vellum
__ Paper
  2.2 __ Manuscript earlier than 16th century
Date (if known)...............
    Derived from:
__ Bibliographic source
__ Opinion of compiler
  2.3. __ Incunabula
3. Binding
  3.1. __ Binding not restored
  3.2. __ Binding restored
  3.3. __ New binding or rebinding with portions of original preserved
  3.4. __ Binding detached - Text not to be found
4. Covering
  4.1. Material
  4.1.1. __ Leather (animal skin, but not parchment or vellum)
  4.1.2. __ Vellum/parchment
  4.1.3. __ Fabric
  4.1.4.__ __ Other
  4.1.5. __ Lacking cover material (less than 1/2 of exterior surface covered)
  4.2. Decoration
  4.2.1. __ Blind tooling
  4.2.2. __ Gold tooling (also silver, bronze, colors)
  4.2.3. __ None
  5. Studs, bosses
  5.1. __ Present still
  5.2. __ Traces (impressions)
  5.3. __ Absent
6. Clasps
  6.1. __ Metal elements present
  6.1.1. __ Traces, impressions of metallic elements
  6.2. __ Traces (unidentifiable)
  6.3. __ None present
7. Boards/sides
  7.1. __ Wood
  7.2. __ Board (binder's board, pasteboard)
  7.3. __ Other (paper, limp vellum)
  7.4. __ None, missing
8. Cords, sewing supports
  8.1. __ Present
  8.1.1. Number
  8.2. __ Not visible; countable by touch
9. Dimensions
  9.1. __ Dimensions same as text
  9.2. __ Larger than text
  10. Observations and Notes: . [½ page of room]
11. Inspector
  11.1. Name
  11.2. Position in library
  11.3. Telephone number(s) of Library...........
Inspector reachable at Institution
__a.m only


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