Monday, April 26, 2010

At Yale University's Library Recycling Is The Law

A Page From: The Passion of Saint Alexander, Pope and Martyr, (Passio Sancti Alexandri martyris papae) circa 975-1075. Reused To Strengthen The Cover Of Flos testamnetorum By Rolandinus, de Passageriis, Published In Padua In 1482.
(Images Courtesy Of The Lillian Goldman Law Library Rare Book Collection, Yale University.)

The last weekend of April 2010 saw celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Citizens of the world were urged to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," to help save our imperiled planet. An exhibit at the Yale University's Lillian Goldman Law Library proves that, as fine an idea as this is, it is hardly breaking news. The collection on display is as green as the Ivy League walls that surround it, but its materials were created in the inky shadows of The Dark Ages.

The bindings of nearly 150 books in the Law Library's Rare Book Collection show that recycling was second nature among European bookbinders as early as the 1300's. These medieval artisans reused the materials they had on hand: discarded manuscripts. The strong, flexible, and prohibitively pricey parchment of these documents proved the perfect product for binding new books. What are now considered priceless volumes, dating from as early as 975 AD, were to these craftsmen nothing more than a serviceable source of scraps.

A Portion Of A German Breviary, Circa 1150-1200. Found Inside The Cover Of Communes i.v. conclusiones, ad gerneralem quorum cunque statutorum interpetationem acommodatae, by Alderano Mascardi, published in Frankfurt by Wolfgang Richter in 1609. This fragment remained hidden until a bomb exploded in the Yale Law Library in May, 2003. Water damage from fire sprinklers caused the book's cover to come unglued, revealing the manuscript page.

The 14th- and 15th-century works featured in Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings, all incorporate visible pieces of older tomes in their construction. Some of these scraps are so tiny they can easily be overlooked, while others are big enough to cover the entire exterior of a large volume. Many of the fragments have remained hidden for centuries. Only when its cover has fallen into disrepair is the secret source material of one of the collection's books revealed.

A Fragment In French, Circa 1475-1525, The Source Of Which Remains A Mystery. It May Be A Deed For A Piece Of Property, And Was Used As A Wrapper For: Caccialupi, Giovanni Battista. De Pesionibus tractatus uere aureus. Rome: F. Minizio Calvo, 1531.

Once exposed, these fragments become a puzzle for scholars and librarians to solve. Discovering the origins of the scraps sheds a little more sunlight onto the Dark Ages. The subject matter, popularity, geographic distribution, changing styles in binding and printing, and evolving script and illustration of medieval manuscripts, are all illuminated by identifying the source texts of each remnant.

Another Fragment Of Unknown Origin, Circa 1350-1450. Twelve Small Volumes Of Corpus iuris civilis, Published In Lyons by Guillame Rouille In 1581, Were Neatly Covered By Pages From A Manuscript Containing Passages From The Bible.

Most of the manuscript pieces in the Yale Law Library's collection have been identified and tentatively dated. The materials chosen for the exhibit bring to light the diversity of texts that have been hidden in the covers of just a small sampling of the collection's rare books. Examination of the bindings has revealed verses from, and commentaries on, the Bible; liturgical materials, including some with musical notation; passages from sermons; a section of Cicero's philosophical text, Dream of Scipio; and, as befits their current home, several slices of legal texts. Most of the fragments are in Latin, but two are from Hebrew texts, two more are in French, and one appears to be in some form of German.

This Volume, Repetitiones decem legum, [Paris, Andre Bocard for Jean Petit, 1507.] Contains Two Unidentified Fragments, Circa 1350-1425. The Page Above, From The Inside Front Cover Contains A List Of Benediction Prayers For The Feast Of The Virgin Mary And The Feast Of All Saints.

The Inside Back Cover Of The Same Volume Reveals A Page From A Completely Unrelated Manuscript, Appearing To Be From Some Type Of Prayer Book.

The sources of some of some of the parchment pieces in the exhibit remain mysterious. On March 19, 2010, over 40 members of the Medieval Academy of America were invited to investigate the display, in hopes of identifying the parent-texts of those fragments which remain orphans. Images of the bindings were also made available for viewing online. This clever strategy has paid off, with the resulting clues from scholars being posted on the Rare Book Collection's blog. Anyone able to make more of these manuscripts illuminated rather than shadowy is invited to contact the exhibit's co-curators, Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener.

1 comment:

  1. This practice continued for a long time. I remember books with weaken bindings of the early 20th century or late 19th century that showed evidence of other books being used in the binding along the spine of the book.


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