Elsewhere, one might consider the Broken Books website, for a slightly different approach. And there are probably others.
|15th c. German Gradual Leaf, |
mounted behind paper mat.
I generally make it a rule not to buy leaves from books that have been broken up recently: when I buy fragments from bindings, the books they derive from were probably broken up in the eighteenth century or earlier.
But I am left with the question of how recent is recent, when the issue involves the breaking up of a medieval manuscript in the twentieth century.
I suppose each collector and dealer must answer that question for themselves, but as far as I am concerned, I generally think that as long as a leaf has passed through the hands of one owner who is not a dealer, the focus of my concern must be for the future of the leaf, rather than the past. The is, if a collector or owner has held onto a leaf and treasured it as an artifact from the past, then my role as a dealer is also to treasure it, and not to despise it as the product of a book-breaker. That collector may well have originally purchased the leaf from a book-breaker, but now that the damage has been done, my concern is to preserve the leaf I see before me for the future.
In short, I usually am not willing to give money to the modern day breakers of books, but even that position downplays the responsibility I feel towards trying to give all medieval books and leaves good homes. But I can and should be willing to buy from a dealer who finds such a leaf in a collector's estate, for example.
The leaf pictured here is a fine example.
|Original label accompanying this paper leaf, |
affixed to the rear of the folding mat.
When I bought this leaf, there was an image included of the label from "Folio Fine Art," as I show in my own second image here. The estimate of the date given seems to be a reasonable one, but I was especially struck by the price: 1 pound, 12 shillings, and sixpence.
Whatever else I could conclude about the leaf, I was certain that it had been a matter of some decades since this leaf had been offered at that price: not least because the price so obviously precedes the decimalization of the British pound in 1971.
Although I don't often check the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, I thought that there was at least a chance that this book would show up there. And indeed, when I typed "Cistercian Gradual" into the search box, six entries came up, two of which relate to this manuscript: fifteen leaves offered as part of a lot in a Sotheby's sale of 2005 (SBDM 59725) and a 1967 catalogue from Folio Fine Art, Ltd (SDBM 59797). Even without images, the size of the leaf, the material (paper) and the number of lines (7) all make it virtually certain that my leaf is part of this same medieval book.
A bit of tedious Googling can turn up the online record of the Sotheby's sale, which also lists moments when other individual leaves from this book passed through the Sotheby's auction house, as well as the hands of at least one other dealer. The Schoenberg Database, perhaps as a matter of limiting its own scope, generally does not trace single leaves.
To me, the Folio Fine Art label, and the record of the price that they put on the leaf, are fascinating and important bits of its history. Where the leaf was between 1967 and 2019 may never be known for certain, but I cannot look at a leaf like this and refuse to buy it or treasure it because the book it came from was devalued and broken by another dealer over fifty years ago. History is full of such moments--when books, to take only one kind of example--were treated in ways I wouldn't treat them myself.
But this leaf is a survivor, now, and I am pleased to be able to give it a home, at least for a time.
|The verso of the leaf, showing tape|
attachments and the mat.