Sewn bookblock within limp parchment wrapper, late fifteenth century

Clemens de Terra Salsa
Conclusiones formales in Thomae de Aquino Summam theologicam
[Basel: Printer of the ‘Modus legendi abbreviaturas’, about 1484]
bound with:
[Louvain: Conradus Braem, about 1474–75]

The hand-written note on the upper sewing support of this remarkable volume, possibly identifying the author, must have been added when it had no cover. Its purpose was presumably to identify the book after folding and sewing, but before sale, suggesting that these two titles were offered for purchase together in this state. We know that books could be acquired thus, leaving the choice of cover and decoration to the purchaser, but it is extremely rare to find them still unbound five hundred years later.

Inc.5.A.4.24[4151] and [4152]

The plain parchment cover on this composite volume might not appear remarkable, but the presence of a partially erased late fifteenth-century inscription – possibly once the name of the author of the first work in the volume, Frater Clemens de Terra Salsa – on the upper sewing support slip in the left joint suggests otherwise. It is highly unusual to find an inscription in
such a place, and suggests that when it was written, the book had no cover, and that this indication of the author or content, if such it was, was intended to identify it within the book trade before the cover was added. The structure is simple, sewn on only two sewing supports, without adhesive, linings or endbands, though it does use parchment sewing guards in the centre of each gathering, a common feature of paper-leaved books until the 1490s. The use of the first, blank, text leaf as
a flyleaf, whilst adding only a single endleaf to protect the textblock (hooked around the final gathering of the volume, which did not provide a blank final leaf ), shows a concern for economy. For whom and why the two editions, printed some ten years apart, were sewn together is unknown, but the state of the volume suggests that it was done within the book trade.

Books could be bought as sewn bookblocks from the late fifteenth century to the eighteenth, leaving the choice of cover and decoration to the purchaser. Here, an inexpensive plain calf parchment wrapper with a fore-edge flap was chosen, following a typically Germanic pattern. It was attached to the bookblock by means of four small secondary ‘tackets’ of cord threaded through octagonal leather reinforcements on the spine and between the elements of the double supports close to each end of the bookblock: only one of the tackets has survived. This volume was acquired by Antonio Graziadei,Abbot of the monastery of Admont in Austria between 1483 and 1491, who wrote his name (Anth[onius] Abb[as]) on the recto of the second leaf, perhaps when he removed manuscripts and printed books from the abbey before his arrest and death in
prison. The parchment cover has a possibly slightly later title on the right cover, which could suggest that the cover was supplied only after the book was returned to the monastery. This rare survival was given to the University Library by Sir Stephen Gaselee in 1936.

Essay by Professor Nicholas Pickwoad

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