By Claire B
I’ve just been reading an article on Atlas Obscura entitled ‘The Surprising Practice of Binding Old Books With Scraps of Even Older Books’. Published in 2018 it describes the practice of repurposing pages, part pages and scraps of old book pages into newer volumes. These pieces appear as bindings, mends, or pieces to reinforce spines.
In part it reads:
From the earliest days of bookmaking, binders made use of scraps. Sometimes, it was just mundane material: leases or contracts that had expired or been rendered moot by a scribe’s mistake. In other cases, the bindings illustrate some seismic cultural shift. In these instances, the materials indicate to modern scholars what was important to the people assembling books—or, conversely, what had little or no value to them.
It goes on to describe how valuable texts in certain periods of history went from being culturally important to being virtually worthless when monastic libraries were dissolved and these publications had nowhere to go and no audience. However, their value as raw material – such as vellum, made from animal skin – remained.
The article goes on to detail how different old books within a single library have been found to have ‘waste’ from the same even older texts within them, showing that the books in question had, at some point, spent restorative time together in the past.
It also looks at the value of both the newer book and the older inclusions. Should a bound 15th-century volume be carefully separated to better understand and identify an even older piece of history? In one case (cited in the article) they found a binding consisted of fragments of 10th-century sermons attributed to Saint Augustine which was of more interest, and rarity, than the printed book.
This is a fascinating read and introduces us not only to the idea of repurposing, mending and preserving, but also the work undertaken by researchers and how they endeavor to understand more of our history.
Click here to read the full article.