Thursday, December 3, 2015

Shelfie Thursday: A Book Bound in a Charter

1631 book bound in an older charter
I am always on the lookout for old books which have been bound in recycled or reused vellum, so it was a delight to come across this little book in the last couple of weeks. A tiny little thing, only about five inches tall, it is bound in an old charter (the first words read In Nomine D[omi]ni) probably dating from the fifteenth century.

[I should pause to say that by "charter" I mean some sort of legal document written on a loose single sheet. Here the text is practically unreadable, after the opening words, because the re-used vellum is worn, darkened, and stained. The text does respond a bit to UV light, but I've not been able to identify its place or date of origin at all, other than by script.]

The book itself is Guilelmus Spreuwen's Fasciculus Myrrhae, printed in Louvain in 1631. As a fairly undistinguished seventeenth-century book on a religious topic, the book has not been well collected: my quick search on WorldCat seemed able to trace only one institutionally-held copy, in Antwerp. For me at least, it's the binding that is far more interesting and worth collecting, though I am wise enough to know that another person might have a different view of it.
Title page

Just as interesting as the vellum binding wrap, though, were the pages of printer's waste that were used as endpapers in this binding of the book. Although Google is usually remarkably useful in identifying many old texts, I haven't found any matches for a number of the lexical collocations on these pages. Which is too bad, because even while they are fragmentary, it's clear that these pages offer some sort of historical material regarding Carolingian events, with references to Charles Martell (Martellus) of the Franks (Francorum) and the expulsion of some Saracens (Saracenis pulsis).

I should note that I have at least one additional book bound in an old charter, and I also have a binding scrap from a dated French charter of 1520, which was bound so that the plain side was on the outside. How the visual aesthetics of plain vellum or inscribed vellum were understood in this period is one of those questions that I think is fascinating to think about, especially as it must be the case that some vellum bindings use charters facing inwards, oriented in such a way that generations of owners, right up to the present, may have had no idea that the vellum is written on, on the inside. Others, like this book, have the charter writing upside down, but otherwise, right out in the open, a challenge to readers, even as the spine of this book has a title added over it in a seventeenth-century hand, in a kind of palimpsest.

And this is one more reason why these old books always fascinate me: even an old and old-fashioned religious book can end up being the opportunity for a whole variety of textual items, and practices, and ideas to be brought together.
Printed waste used as endpapers.

No comments:

Post a Comment