What: A Lecture, The Conservation of Dante’s 1477 La Commedia
Who: Jeff Peachey
Where: Schlesinger Library, Harvard University, 3 James Street, Cambridge, MA
When: 6:00 – 8:00pm, November 19, 2019
The conservation treatment of of Dante’s 1477 La Commedia will be detailed in this profusely illustrated lecture. An examination of the remains of earlier binding structures, and decisions that lead to its resewing and rebinding in an alum tawed goatskin conservation binding will be discussed. During the treatment, evidence was found suggesting that the Inferno and Purgatorio cantiche may have circulated separately at one point. Differences between historic 15th century binding practices and modern conservation binding techniques will be highlighted, as will the difficulties of achieving a sympathetic relationship between original and new binding materials. Observations on the history, nature and idea of conservation rebinding will conclude the lecture, followed by an audience discussion. Conservators, bibliophiles, bookbinders, librarians, Italian scholars, and anyone curious about the physical structure of books will find this lecture of interest.
Peachey is an independent book conservator and toolmaker based in New York City. For more than 25 years, he has specialized in the conservation of books for institutions and individuals. He is a Professional Associate in the American Institute for Conservation, has taught book conservation workshops internationally, and was awarded fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center (Italy) and the University of Toronto’s Fischer Library (Toronto). He is a Visiting Instructor for the Library and Archives Conservation Education Consortium (LACE) of Buffalo State University, New York University, and the Winterthur/ University of Delaware. “Ausbund 1564: The History and Conservation of an Anabaptist Icon” is his latest publication.
Sponsored by the NE Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers.
The term “conservation binding” gets thrown around a lot. It certainly sounds different than just rebinding a book. But what does it really mean?
It is unknown who coined the term, and a google ngram search shows its use beginning in the 1960s, and peaking in the 1980s. It wouldn’t surprise me if it actually started in the 1950s in England. The 1980s were the peak of rebinding in book conservation, which resulted in many treatments that we would now consider too invasive. But the ethos then was to treat a book so that it would last 500 years. Of course, the correlation between the use of the term and making a conservation binding is not known.
The trouble is, it doesn’t have any agreed upon meaning, similar to the even more ubiquitous term “archival”. All the usual suspects for bookbinding terminology — Language of Bindings, Carter, Etherington,The Multilingual Bookbinding and Conservation Dictionary — don’t have an entry for conservation binding. In practice, it can simply mean a binding done by a conservator. And anyone can call themselves a conservator. Or it can often mean a reversible layer of paste and Japanese tissue on the spine of a fine binding. Or it can imply the use of durable and modern conversationally accepted materials (i.e. linen, handmade paper, tawed skin) incorporated into a binding, with minimal attention paid to decoration and finishing.
So here is my first stab at a definition:
A conservation binding is a rebinding that is structurally similar and aesthetically sympathetic to the time the text was printed. It is durable, easily reversible, non-damaging and alters the original binding materials as little as possible. It does not fool someone into thinking it is an original binding, though it is harmonious with actual historic bindings.