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Historical Bindings

Sixteenth-century cover, closed

Dartmouth Brut, sixteenth-century cover.

Sixteenth-century cover, closed

Dartmouth Brut, sixteenth-century cover.

Sixteenth-century cover

Dartmouth Brut, sixteenth-century cover.

Folger Shakespeare Library, V.b.296

Folger Shakespeare Library, V.b.296

Folger Shakespeare Library, V.b.296

Folger Shakespeare Library, V.b.296

[Deborah Howe]

Historically, texts from the period, written on parchment, were usually sewn onto raised supports and laced into pasteboard (heavy boards made by laminating layers of paper), oak, or beech wood boards. Once laced into the boards, the binding was covered with leather or an alum-tawed pig or goat skin. Often decorated brass clasps were fastened to the covers at the foredge to restrain the hydroscopic parchment. The Brut binding is, by contrast, supple and limp, unusual for a cohesive and complete parchment text. It is in fact a stationery binding, sometimes referred to as a tacketed or account book binding. The outside decoration reflects precisely David Pearson’s description of a stationer’s binding: “A common distinguishing feature of this branch of binding is the addition of broad leather bands on the outside of the book, across the spine, with a criss-cross interlace in the leather bands and clearly visible spine tackets. The bindings may also have wraparound flaps which are held shut using clasps or toggles attached to the bands” (90; further illustration in Medieval Manuscripts 35).

There are two types of tacket bindings, primary and secondary. The Brut binding utilized secondary tackets: “Secondary tackets are used to attach a cover to a text block which is already held together by some other means-usually but by no means always, by sewing in the conventional manner to sewing supports” (Pickwoad 138; graphic illustration in Szirmai 310). This type of binding enabled the owner to add new quires by simply removing the tackets, adding the new material to the leather sewing supports, and retacketing into the cover; the fore-edge flap would compensate for the extra allowance needed as the spine became thicker. With this evidence in hand I concluded that perhaps this binding of the Brut was commissioned by a merchant in the sixteenth century, an idea later corroborated by evidence from readers’ annotations (see Ulrich’s article, “Echoes in the Margins,” in this issue). The metal clasp on the flap remains something of a mystery, since the cover shows no evidence of a corresponding catch plate. The clasp may have been repurposed from the original hard-cover binding, never intended to be functional, or simply left incomplete.

[Michelle Warren]

The similarities between the Brut and the Derling family’s Book of Diverse Necessary Remembrances are striking (Deborah and I each found this analogue in different ways). The Folger Shakespeare Library catalogue describes the covering as “a London 16th-century blank book binding in brown calfskin over pulp boards with fore-edge flap, over-bands, tackets, lacings, buckle, and strap. Tooled in blind. Dimension: 310 × 201 × 47 mm.” The Brut binding is of similar size (290 × 195 mm), described by Dorothy Africa (Preservation, Conservation, and Digital Imaging, Harvard Library) as “a stationer’s binding, the sort most commonly used for ledgers and business records, characterized by external bands, decorative lacing patterns, tackets and an overlap front lap” (cited in Bryan 208). I am intrigued further by similarities between the Brut binding clasp and those found (as Deborah suggests) on hard cover bindings.1

 

Notes:

1. See MS STC 2248, at the Folger Shakespeare Library.