Mediaeval manuscripts used as dust jackets

We have found a really interesting story about how mediaeval manuscripts were used in the 17th and 18th centuries as “stuffing” in the binding of books or as dust jackets.   And it comes from Edmonton, not the one near us, but Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada.

The story starts like this:-  “The book before me is huge and heavy, bound, not in paper or cardboard, but with planks of solid oak, held together by thick cords.   It looks like a prop from a fantasy film. It’s actually a Latin dictionary, published in the early 1700s.”   But here’s the secret:-   “But as old as the dictionary appears, it hides a secret far older.   Inside the heavy oak cover is a parchment liner.    Other pieces of the same parchment are stuffed into the spine, to bind the book block together.   The parchment wrapper is far older than the dictionary:  a medieval manuscript, hand-written on calfskin vellum.”

The book is usually kept in a vault  at the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, at the University of Alberta, and there is no record of when or how the book arrived in its collection.  

A group of students and staff at the university is “prospecting” for lost mediaeval book pages blithely recycled and reused by commercial printers, centuries later, to create durable bindings for “mass-produced” books hot off the post-Gutenberg presses that put those long-forgotten scribes out of work.   Some of the books have dust jackets made out of 800-year-old sheet music, or illuminated manuscripts with real gold leaf, which still shines today.   

And now the people at the university are using modern technology to identify the scraps of manuscripts.   They type a few of the words of the Latin text into Google Books, and, in the case of the wooden bound book mentioned above, they are informed in an instant that it is “a copy of the Justinian Code, the foundational books of laws inherited from the Roman Empire, upon which mediaeval law was largely based.”

What an amazing story, which can be read in full here:      old-books-hide-even-older-secrets-from-middle-ages

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Published in: on October 23, 2012 at 4:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. Reblogged this on Asatru / Heathen South Africa.


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