The John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections regularly hosts exhibits related to the institution’s holdings. This fall an exhibit of bookbindings is featured. Mark Esser, Book Conservator at the Library from 1994-2008, during his tenure had compiled a list of bindings worthy of note. David Richtmyer, Rare Books Librarian & Senior Cataloger, and I, Conservator at the John J. Burns Library, used Mark’s list as a starting point, and then selected books that we admired as well. The choices for the exhibit were made based purely on the appearance of the books, so the exhibit is not limited to a particular time period. The resulting show is a handsome group of books in a variety of styles from a wide span of years. Although it wasn’t the main intention of the exhibit, the books represent many different topics in the Burns Library’s collections as well.
David and I will be giving presentations to the Boston College students enrolled in Professor Virginia Reinburg’s History course, “Making History Public: Books around the World, 1400-1800”, during the fall semester. Our exhibit supports the course curriculum by providing bookbinding examples for the students to view—the class will take place in the library. A total of twenty-five volumes are now on display in the O’Brien Fine Print Room and the Irish Room, from September 4, 2012 through January 16, 2013. The following descriptions of four books are representative of the volumes on display.
Il Valderrama Qvadragesimale, Venice 1609, this book has a presentation style binding and was originally owned by Pope Paul V (1552-1621). The papal arms surmounted by the crossed keys and triple diadem are gilt tooled on each cover. The elaborate papal crest is repeated on all four corners of each board, a wide floral arabesque gilt border graces both boards and elements of the crest appear on the spine. This is one example of the papal bindings in the Burns collections.
Breviarium Romanum, Rome 1791. As a Jesuit Catholic institution, Boston College owns many copies of this title. We chose to show this particular four volume set because it is exquisitely bound and has its original protective boxes. The stunning gilt tooled pattern on the boards and spine was created by a binder who may well have used every decorative gilding tool in his shop to execute the design. The red morocco leather on the covers has the patina of books well-loved and cared for. No expenses were spared in the making of these volumes; they have beautiful gilt and gauffered edges on the text-blocks.
Summa Azonis, Venice, 1498. This oversized book is covered with two 15th century leaves from a cathedral choir book. The musical notation illustrating the cover had nothing to do with the text of the book; it is about early Roman civil law. The vellum covers are not the original binding. The Burns Library has many examples of books with manuscript vellum covers. Some were original to the text-block, others like this example, were added at a later time.
Catena Aurea, Cologne, 1482. Although this binding has been repaired, it retains enough original features to interest and educate viewers about 15thcentury bookbinding techniques. Three original brass bosses (raised medallions that would protect the binding as it rested on a surface) are in place as well as some of the brass fittings for the clasps. Exhibition viewers will enjoy seeing the blind-stamped pattern on the dark brown leather covers.
Viewers will be pleased to learn that we have not overlooked the 19th and 20th centuries; you will see examples from those centuries in the show. Indeed, we selected a book bound as recently as 1996 for the exhibition. As mentioned earlier, the exhibition curators are David Richtmyer and me.
David Richtmyer is the John J. Burns Library Rare Books Librarian & Senior Cataloger. Following degrees from the University of Michigan, he began his career with the bibliographic description of the project now known as EEBO – Early English Books Online. In 1989 he became the Rare Books Cataloger at his alma mater, doing bibliographic description and research for the U-M’s Special Collections Library. After the successful launch of the University of Michigan’s digital library he also served as the liaison between the Digital Library Production Service Department and the Technical Services department, brokering the records for a number of electronic collections hosted by the University’s Scholarly Publishing Office, now MPublishing. In 2007 he joined the staff of the John J. Burns Library. He also is the sole proprietor of DeWorde Metadata Services, the supplier of bibliographic metadata for the American Council of Learned Societies’ Humanities E-Book project.
I have been the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library since 2009. Previously, I was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum from 1990 until 2009. I learned bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School as a student of Mark Esser. I belong to the Guild of Book Workers, the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, the International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and the New England Conservation Association. I regularly teach Boston College students in the Bookbuilders of Boston internship program and give presentations to History and Art classes.
On behalf of my co-curator, I welcome you to the exhibit.
- Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, John J. Burns Library
Exhibit dates: September 4, 2012 – January 16, 2013
The exhibition is free and open to the public during regular library hours. For library hours, check the BC Libraries hours website at http://www.bc.edu/content/bc/libraries/about/hours.html.
Location: The John J. Burns Library is located on the Chestnut Hill Campus of Boston College, for a map, see: http://www.bc.edu/content/bc/a-z/maps/s-chestnuthill.html.