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  • Writer's pictureLucy Vinten

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle the 17th Century Way

Two re-used works used in the 16th Century binding of Gardiner's 'Confutatio Cavillationum'

World Book Day falls on 5 March this year, and this blog post will look at some of the antiquarian books in the Jesuit Archives which I have been cataloguing recently.

I have been struck by how many of the books which retain their older bindings – that is, those which were not re-bound in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries -- contain re-used materials. ‘Reduce Reuse Recycle’ is a current concept, and one which we should all try to put into practice, but it is not a new idea. Our parents and grandparents used to ‘Make do and mend’, and sixteenth and seventeenth century bookbinders were similarly frugal in their use and reuse of materials.

Old and unwanted books were frequently destroyed. This was the fate of books which were broken beyond repair, or were no longer fashionable, or which brought political or theological suspicion on their owner. However, the constituent parts of the dismembered books were kept and reused, because both parchment and paper were valuable materials. One of the ways they were reused was in the bindings of new books, and some of these scraps of medieval books are traceable in books in the Jesuit antiquarian book collection.

Some of the easiest to find are those which formed flyleaves and paste-downs in newer books. Paste-downs are sheets of paper or parchment which were stuck inside the covers, although they have often become unstuck in the intervening centuries, and their purpose was to protect the text from the discolouring effect of the leather used on the cover. Flyleaves are extra sheets added by bookbinders at the beginning and end of the text, whose purpose was also to protect the text.

The Jesuits in Britain’s copy of Gardiner’s 'Confutatio Cavillationum'

The Jesuit antiquarian book collection includes a copy of a book by Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, Confutatio Cavillationum, which was published in 1554 in Louvain. Stephen Gardiner was a minister of Henry VIII’s, although he was a religious conservative and opposed some aspects of the Reformation. He spent much of Edward’s reign in prison, but under Mary was made Lord Chancellor. This is not the first edition of his book, there was an earlier published in Paris in 1552. Our copy has a binding which is roughly contemporary with the date of publication, and it is the binding which interests us here.

Two different reused works, a medieval Latin theological work as the paste-down, a librarian’s list as the flyleaf, in the sixteenth century binding of Gardiner’s 'Confutatio Cavillationum'

A second work was re-used to make the flyleaves as part of the binding of this copy of the Gardiner book. This was written in Latin on paper, and was a list of books, probably made by a librarian. It is a roughly alphabetical list, and the flyleaf at the back shows some of the ‘C’s. It also gives a brief physical description of each book. In the image below, taken from the back of the Gardiner volume, the final word in most of the lines describes the colour of the binding of the book – the majority were black, but some were red (rubus). Towards the centre of the page are entries for Cassiodorus’ commentaries on the Psalms and for the ‘Codex Justiniani’ – Justinian’s Law Code. Both these books were bound in black leather.

Part of the ‘C’ section of the Librarian’s book list
Close up of the entries for Cassiodorus on the Psalms, and the Codex Justiniani

Another volume in the Jesuit antiquarian book collection has reused flyleaves, but of a very different type. This is catalogue no A/241, published 134 years later than the Gardiner, in 1668, which contains two Counter-Reformation tracts which were published anonymously, although the first one The Schism of the Church of England, Demonstrated in four parts is part of a larger work by John Spenser. It is bound in vellum, and the covers are soft, but are decorated with gold, which is unusual among books of this type. At the time it was bound, flyleaves were added, which are one continuous sheet of paper wrapped round the text block, and the soft cover was stitched on top. The flyleaves are of paper and come from a handwritten recipe book, which had numbered recipes in it, numbers 24-31 being still mainly legible. Number 24 is ‘To preserve quinces’, number 26, ‘To make a marmolet of Apricots’ and no 27 ‘To pickell quinches’ are at the front of the book, while at the back is ‘To preserve green plums’ and number 31, ‘To preserve peaches’. I have provided a transcription of ‘To make a Marmolet of Apricots’; if anyone tries making this recipe, we’d be very pleased to hear about your results!

Pages of a recipe book covering pickling and preserving reused as flyleaves

To make mormolet of Apricots.

[Ta]ke a pound of frught 3 quarters of a pound of firm…

[su]gar, you must have 2 skillits, in ye one wh yr Apricots on

[...]slice them thin from ye stone and boile a quarzer

[p]ound of sugar with it till it come to mash, take heed it

[does] not burn into ye other skillet wett your sugar with as

[li]ttle water as you can, and boile it to a candy, but not

[too] high a one, put thereunto your mash & give it boile &

[po]ur it into your glasses, it will candy at top without a ?stove.

[Y]our Apricots must be all of a ripeness

A different way of reusing older books was as part of the outside of the cover of a newer book. An example in the Jesuit antiquarian book collection is a copy of the lives and miracles of the Jesuit saints Ignatius and Francis Xavier by Francisco Maria Monte, published in 1622. Like the Gardiner book above, the binding is roughly contemporaneous with the date of publication, but it is a very different and much more lightweight construction. The cover is made of light board, with parchment covering it. The parchment is reused from an older music book.

A reused part of a church music book

Again, sadly there is too little left to identify the text of the reused book. The writing and the music is very large, and may well come from a big book used in the choir of a church. Most probably the book was an Antiphonal, which were liturgical books containing antiphons, the sung portions of the services, both texts and notation. Books such as these were often very big, designed to be used by several people at the same time. They were often shared by members of a choir.

Another book in the collection, published in 1630, is the anonymous The Satisfactorie epistle Of a late Conuerted English protestant, vnto Catholyke religion. This book does not have a proper cover. Instead a very thin bit of parchment has been crudely stitched together and attached to the text block. The inside of this piece of parchment is covered in writing, and was clearly cut down from a larger document. This is the most basic form of book-cover, probably made by a former owner of the book rather than a professional bookbinder.

Reused legal document – front cover

The writing inside this cover is in English, in a secretary hand, and appears to be a legal document, probably a land transaction. Although the re-used document contains some names (John, and Gregory and Elizabeth, who share a surname which is hard to read but is perhaps Curby) it is not possible to make a secure identification.

Reused legal document – back cover. Here the English secretary hand is identifiable and partly legible

It is hard to date this document, but it is likely to date from 1733 or later because it is in English. Before that, with the exception of the Cromwellian Commonwealth years (1649-1660), legal documents were in Latin.

The last two examples of older works reused in the binding of later ones are more structural and fragmentary. Books were put together by sewing together small gatherings of folded sheets. Sometimes, when a book is missing its spine, these can be easily seen:

Damaged books can reveal information about the way books were made. Here the absent spine shows the stitching that held the gatherings together

Here some of the thread that stitched the gatherings together is visible, although some parts of the thread are missing. One of the ways in which a cover was attached to the stitched-together gatherings of text was by sticking small strips of parchment across the ends of the gatherings, so either the boards which formed the covers, or the flyleaves, could be attached to these. Sometimes, these strips of parchment are still visible.

In this volume from 1617, the strips of parchment taken from a medieval book and used in the construction of the book are clearly visible. Some of the letters are highlighted with red ink

In this copy of Papatus Romanus by Mark Anthony de Dominis, published in London in 1617, small strips of parchment taken from a medieval book have been stuck round the ends of the text block as part of the binding process. The medieval book was probably written in the late thirteenth or fourteenth century.

A slightly different arrangement is to be found in the last book examined here, which is a copy of Matthew Kellison’s A treatise of the Hierarchie and divers orders of the chvrch against the anarchie of Calvin, published at Douai in 1629. Similarly to the copy of Papatus Romanus, parchment with medieval writing on it was stuck round the back of the text block, but in this case one long strip was used, and the flyleaf was attached to it.

Medieval parchment used in a seventeenth century book binding. In this case a blue initial letter is visible in the medieval writing

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were times of great change and books which had previously been valued became worthless, or even dangerous to possess. There are accounts of entire libraries being emptied and their contents blowing around in the wind. Some books came to have value only as physical material, and sixteenth century book collectors describe how pages from former books were used by shop keepers to wrap up their wares, whether that was cheese or mended shoes. One can imagine book binding workshops awash with disbound and broken up old manuscript books, ready to be cut up and reused in the making of new book coverings. The traces and phantoms of older works -- even of long disbanded libraries, in the case of the librarian’s book list in the Gardiner volume – which the cataloguing process reveal are a small witness to the religious and social upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as to the frugality and ingenuity of early modern book binders.

If you are interested in any of the books featured here, or in the work of the Jesuit archives, and would like to learn more or make an appointment to visit, please contact us:

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