SCUA Treasures – Leave Your Legacy Homecoming 2016

Tomorrow, from 1-4 pm in room 405 Parks Library, Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) will have selected treasures on display. We will have artifacts, rare books, films, student publications from the 1960s, and other wonderful items from our collections.

 

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Please drop by. All are welcome!

For the preservation of our treasures, please leave food & drink outside.


Rare Book Highlights: Hammer of Demons

Alexandro Albertino. Mallevs daemonvm, siuè, quatuor experimentatissimi exorcismi, ex Euangelijs collecti : in fine erunt due Benedictiones, & vna vulgaris deprecatio pro ignaris, & mulierbus, vt possint semetipsos praeseruare, & liberare Deo auxiliante : si non habuerint sacerdotem. Veronae: Typis Bartholomaei Merli, 1620. (Call number: BF1555 A38x )

The demon-possessed woman. Obscure Latin verses causing the possessed to writhe in agony. Familiar scenes to any fan of exorcism movies, or to any TV channel surfer this time of year.

That is why I couldn’t resist choosing Malleus Daemonum (or Hammer of Demons) for this month’s Rare Book Highlight after discovering this book while perusing our shelves recently. While works on demonology, or even religion more broadly, are not a collecting area here in Special Collections, we do have a few interesting books to be found on subjects such as these from an earlier era of less discriminate collecting.

Title page of Malleus Daemonum, 1620.

Title page of Malleus Daemonum, 1620.

Malleus Daemonum appears to be a very rare book on the subject of exorcisms. Trying various searches in WorldCat (an online union catalog that includes items from libraries in 170 countries), I found only 4 other copies of the 1620 edition like we have (one at the University of Illinois here in the United States and three at libraries in the United Kingdom), and another five copies of the 1624 edition in the United States, Australia, and in Rome.

First page of the litany section of Exorcism I

First page of the litany section of Exorcism I

As the subtitle implies (quatuor experimentatissimi exorcismi, ex Euangelijs collecti, or Four Most Experimented Exorcisms Collected from the Gospels), the book explores the subject of exorcisms in the context of the four Christian gospels. The main part of the text is divided into four sections, Exorcismus I, II, III, and IIII. Written in Latin, each begins with a litany, or series of formulaic petitions, along these lines: “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison, Christe audi nos, Christe exaudi nos. Pater de Coelis Deus, libera hanc Creaturam tuam ab omnibus malis, et vexationibus Daemonium.” (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Christ have mercy, Christ hear us, Christ graciously hear us. God the Father of Heaven, God, deliver this creature of thy family, from all evils, and vexation of evil spirits.) The litany continues for several pages, calling on the Trinity, the apostles, and the saints, to drive away demons. It culminates in a prayer, beginning, “Oremus” (We pray…) Next, are long sections discussing or perhaps quoting specific selections from each of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The book ends with what appear to be three testimonials from priests, testifying to the book’s orthodoxy.

Oremus ("we pray")

Oremus (“we pray”)

To put this book in context, I looked at a number of recent scholarly works exploring witchcraft and demonic possession in early modern Europe and North America, roughly from the late 15th century to the late 18th century. In her book Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France, Sarah Ferber explains that the high number of cases of demonic possession and exorcism of that period took place in the context of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, which brought a great deal of turmoil to Europe. She writes, “…in this context, public displays of battles with Satanic forces became a showcase for rival strands of Christianity. Exorcism – the ritual invocation and controlling of possessing demons, using prayer, sacred texts and exhortation – took place among every western Christian group, to varying degrees, in Europe and in its colonies” (3). The belief in demonic possession, or that spirits can take up residence in a person’s body in order to control it, has scriptural authority for Christians, specifically the gospel account of Jesus’ driving out the “Legion” of spirits from the man in Mark 5, essentially the first performance of exorcism in Christianity (Levack 11).

The proliferation of exorcism during the period was viewed as problematic by the Catholic Church, according to Ferber. Exorcists were sometimes viewed as having made a pact with the devil themselves, in their development of rituals to drive out the possessing demons, but the rite of exorcism also had its defenders. Most famously, Girolamo Menghi, an Italian Franciscan priest, published an authorized exorcism manual by the title Flagellum daemonum (Flail of Demons–it seems to me that our author Albertinus likely had this book in mind when titling his own) in 1576. Exorcists, both those viewed as genuine and those believed to be charlatans, used this work to establish their legitimacy (Ferber, “Demonic” 579, and Ferber, Demonic 38-39). In order to systematize the practice of exorcism, Pope Paul V approved an exorcism ritual that was published in 1614 in the Rituale Romanum, the priest’s service manual (Ferber, Demonic 38-29).

Malleus Daemonum on the shelf with its neighbors. See faint markings of previous letters on the spine.

Malleus Daemonum on the shelf with its neighbors. See faint markings of previous letters on the spine.

Examining the book beyond its text and historical milieu, it shows some interesting binding features. It is bound in limp vellum, meaning that the vellum is not stretched around a board, but is simply attached to the spine and folded around the text block, providing a flexible cover. On the spine is written, “E | V | Alberti | Malleu |Daemo | 23.” Beneath that are traces of previous writing that has been removed. This is what is known as a palimpsest, familiar to scholars of medieval manuscripts. Parchment and vellum were expensive to produce, so they were made reusable by scraping or washing the ink from a page. I am not experienced enough to know if this is a common feature of vellum used for bindings, but it is not something I have come across before. I cannot quite make out what was written underneath the current title.

Front cover of Malleus Daemonum in limp vellum with scribblings in ink.

Front cover of Malleus Daemonum in limp vellum with scribblings in ink.

Further of interest, there is more writing, not so thoroughly erased, on the front cover of the binding. It is more messily written, as if it were used to scribble some notes, and makes me wonder if this book was bound with a piece of reused parchment. Again, I cannot make out much more than “Ergo” (therefore). More of a student of paleography than I can currently claim to be would need to take a look at it.

Works Cited

Ferber, Sarah. Demonic Possession and Exocism in Early Modern France. Routledge, 2004.

–. “Demonic Possession, Exorcism, and Witchcraft.” The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America, edited by Brian P. Levack, Oxford University Press, 2013, 575-592.

Levack, Brian P. The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe. Pearson, 2006.


Artifacts in the Archives – Our Most Thrilling Artifacts!

Today’s  blog post is a collaborative blog post, from several Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) staff, about the artifacts that give us the most thrills and chills. Some staff interpreted this as the spookiest artifact and some as the coolest most exciting artifact. Whatever the interpretation, here are the artifacts that give us the most chills and thrills.

Quartz Fiber Balance

Quart fiber balance, looks like a bottle with legs sitting on a wooden stand, stopper on one end and cut on the other, so it's open, and the open end covered in plastic wrap held on by a rubberband. There is a clear looking scale inside the bottle.

Quartz Fiber Balance (Artifact #2003-2-3.003)

From Amy Bishop, Rare Books & Manuscripts Curator

I nominate the Quartz Fiber Balance (artifact number 2003-203.003) from the Harry J. Svec Papers (RS 13/6/53) as the most thrilling artifact in our collections. Why the thrill? This particular balance, created by Svec as the ISU chemistry department’s glassblower, was used in Ames as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II. The thought of the Manhattan Project always gives me mixed thrills and chills. Thrills from the thought of cutting-edge, top secret scientific research. Chills because of the purpose and ultimate conclusion of the Manhattan Project: atomic bombs, two of which were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing horrific numbers of people. And of course what that led to – the nuclear arms race of the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world.

Also thrilling, though, is to think of the skill of an ISU graduate student who worked as a glassblower, creating by hand precise apparatus for chemical experiments. To quote from the item’s catalog record: “The balance mechanism inside is entirely quartz and balances on a thin quartz thread. This mechanism is very delicate and is sensitive to one-millionth of a gram. Up to one gram of material can be held on each end.” Very impressive indeed. See more about the Ames Project in the Ames Laboratory Records.

 

General Geddes Sword (1827)

General Geddes Sword (Artifact #2015-R003)

General Geddes Sword (Artifact #2015-R003)

From Chris Anderson, Descriptive Records Project Archivist

James Lorraine Geddes (1827-1887) led an adventurous life before his association with Iowa Agricultural College. Born in Scotland, he also lived in Canada and India before settling in the United States. In India, served in the Royal Horse Artillery of the British Army. In this capacity he distinguished himself in the ongoing Anglo-Afghan conflicts in Punjab and the Khyber Pass. He retired a Colonel in 1857 and moved to a farm in Iowa. This peaceful interval did not last long, however. He fought for the Union in the U.S. Civil War, beginning as a private and rising to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General (1865). After the war he returned to Vinton, Iowa. His many achievements in higher education were to follow (1867-1887).

His sword, therefore, makes me think of dire battles. Our information associates the year 1827 with the sword, which is puzzling – Geddes was born in that year.

 

Candelabra

Candelabra from Gravesend Manor

Candelabra from Gravesend Manor (uncataloged)

From Becky Jordan, Reference Specialist

We received this along with other WOI materials when the television station moved out of the Communications Building.

This was a prop from Gravesend Manor—a television program that aired late on Saturday nights on WOI-TV.  They showed horror films with local staff doing introductions and intermissions.  Some of the characters were Malcom the Butler (Ed Weiss), the Duke of Desmodus (James Varnum), Claude (Ron Scott) and Esmerelda (John Voight).  My best recollections of the show are from slumber parties.  It was generally enjoyed with pop and pizza—made from a kit that came in a box—and a lot of giggling.

From Rachel: Check out an earlier blog post about Gravesend Manor.

Metal Shrapnel

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From Whitney Olthoff, Project Archivist

For the most thrilling artifact, I’ve picked metal shrapnel from World War I (2004-179.001 and .002). These pieces came from MS 666, the Fred O. Gordon Papers. Gordon fought in Europe in Battery F, 119th Field Artillery from 1918-1919 and was wounded in October 1918. The shrapnel pieces are thick, solid metal, and I can only imagine the sheer force of the explosion(s) that would’ve blown them apart. Not to mention the damage those pieces could have inflicted if they had hit someone. The act of seeing and holding authentic shrapnel from WWI makes the war and its horrors feel more real, and that’s definitely thrilling.

Tornado Souvenir

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From Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist

My most thrilling artifact is a piece of wood, birch bark. It was found near Margaret Hall in the summer of 1924. Hand written lettering on the piece of birch bark: “Tornado Souvenir June 28, 1924[.] From Tree near Margaret Hall I.S.C. Ames, Iowa.”  I selected this item because I am new to the Midwest and have been a little fixated on weather, particularly weather conditions that may favor a tornado. I can’t imagine anything more thrilling and scarier than a tornado.

 

Margaret Stanton’s Death Mask

Death Mask of Margaret Stanton

Death Mask of Margaret Stanton (Artifact 2001-R130)

From Petrina Jackson, Head of SCUA

Hands down, Margaret Stanton’s death mask, for me, is our most macabre artifact. Popular through the nineteenth century, death masks were created as a commemoration or a way to create a portrait or sculpture of the dead. Death masks were usually made for people who were held in high esteem, which is a testimony of how beloved Margaret Stanton was to the Iowa State community. Although uncommon today, creating death masks, taking photographs of the dead lying in state, or weaving their hair into wreaths or jewelry were all ways that people honored the deceased in the past. With death far more removed from day-to-day, 21st-century American life, the death mask gets my vote as our creepiest, most macabre artifact.


Where there’s smoke, there’s fire insurance maps

Prior to this week, I had never cataloged maps or atlases. My favorite thing about being a cataloger is learning new things — unfamiliar subject matter, but also how resources differ, and why those differences matter. Cartographic materials contrast greatly with the books and periodicals I normally encounter on the job. As a child, I was fascinated with maps and plans; sometimes I would draw maps of imaginary places, or cross-sections of fantastic buildings and caves. As an adult, however, I did not pursue cartography, geography, architecture, or any of the other professions that involve graphical representations of our natural and built environments. As a cataloger, I work with symbolic representations of primarily textual materials, so I faced a learning curve in cataloging Sanborn maps.

The Library of Congress maintains the world’s largest Sanborn Map Collection, which includes “some fifty thousand editions of fire insurance maps comprising an estimated seven hundred thousand individual sheets.” I recommend you read the linked essay, which is more interesting than I expected it to be, and provides a depth of context that’s not possible here, even if I knew the topic well.

Insurance maps of Des Moines, Iowa. New York: Sanborn Map Company, c1920.

Insurance maps of Des Moines, Iowa. New York: Sanborn Map Company, c1920. (Gift of Jerry J. Jennett, June 2016.)

One day I was hard at work, minding my own business, when along came three big books. You could have heard a pin drop: these bad boys are just over two feet square, and heavy. I ended up describing them as “1 atlas in 3 loose-leaf volumes (ca. 310 sheets).” In other words, it’s a huge map of Des Moines divided into a grid on about 310 sheets. If you’ve used road maps, then you know the basic format — once the map is too big to fold, it gets broken up. Breaking up these maps introduces the need for indices and “key maps,” without which the user would be lost.

 

sanborn-key-map

V. 1 KEY MAP (DETAIL). Insurance maps of Des Moines, Iowa. New York: Sanborn Map Company, c1920.

Above you see a small portion of the key map (scale: 1:12,000). Each numbered shape corresponds to one of about 310 “sheets” (scale: 1:600 or sometimes 1:1,200). As we’ll see further on, the 1:600 scale sheets are rich in details that the fire insurance companies valued.

Confusingly, Sanborn “sheets” are printed on both sides of the leaves (at least in this format). It’s tempting to think of these “sheets” as the pages of a folio, but the similarities are superficial. The distinction is a subtle one that I have struggled to describe. Documents have different structures; consulting a reference work is very different from reading a linear, unidirectional text. The Sanborn atlases are graphical reference works for a very particular audience. Numbered sequences — whether of pages, leaves, or other elements — are a feature of resource types that are in other ways dissimilar. Looking at our three-volume map of Des Moines, I can see why some owners would choose to disassemble it (or not acquire the whole set). It’s not surprising that the Library of Congress collection includes a great many “sheet maps” that are not bound into loose-leaf volumes like ours.

sanborn-detail-1

A TYPICAL SHEET (DETAIL). Insurance maps of Des Moines. New York: Sanborn Map Company, c1920.

Here we have a city block represented in a specialized manner. Notable are (1) the nature of the details, and (2) the evidence of revision.

(1) Annotations like “fire proof construction” and “paints & oils” were obviously of interest to the fire insurance companies that bought these maps. What is not clear from this closeup is that the buildings are color-coded: a brick building is shown in pink, a stone building in blue, etc. The insurance companies were also very interested in doors, windows, elevators, and certain other features; you’d need the key to understand the relevant symbols. Not shown above: notes on building security. Important buildings had one or more night watchmen who were noted on the map. Regular patrols might be tracked with watchclocks; “approved clock” is a favorable map note, “no clock” is a bad one indicating that the watchman could muck up his route or skip patrols altogether.

(2) Look closely — see where littler pieces of paper were pasted over the original sheets? These maps were originally issued in 1920, but they were revised many times. Sanborn employees would revise your maps and note the changes in a log. Sometimes they removed whole sheets and replaced them with new ones. An index might get an addendum, or it might be completely pasted over with a new one. The big changes are not mysterious — they are labelled or logged. The little changes are impossible to nail down. Did a Sanborn representative do them?… All I know is that our copies were altered at least twice a year, 1934 through 1937. The sheer number of little paste-overs is mind-boggling!

You can see these books at Special Collections and University Archives, ISU Library. Here they are in the online catalog. 

 

 


Celebrate World Food Day! @WorldFoodDayUSA #WFD2016

Today is World Food Day, established in 1979 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). World Food Day  celebrates the creation of the FAO. On October 16, 1945, FAO was created in Quebec, Canada, in order to end hunger and manage the global food system.

Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) would like to highlight the Norman E. Borlaug Papers in honor of World Food Day.

In 1959, Borlaug joined the FAO. Four years later, in 1963, with inspiration from Mexican President Lopez Mateos and funding from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, Borlaug was involved in the development of the Mexico-based International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) and served as the director of its wheat program.

During the 1960s, Borlaug began to look beyond Mexico to Southern Asia, where food shortages were reaching crisis proportions. He trained scientists in the production of high-yield dwarf wheat and warned them of the potential for disaster in wheat rust. For this work, in recognition of his contribution to saving the lives of millions, Borlaug was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

roof file with photo of Normal Borlaug sitting at desk, his signature on photo, 1977. Filed as "Off-Campus Personalities" Negative Number 77-261 with notes "now copy negs in Spec Coll file"

Proof file with photograph of Norman Borlaug in 1977 (Norman H. Borlaug Papers, box 23, folder 5).

Borlaug joined the FAO in 1959 and founded the World Food Prize in 1986. The 547 is a $250,000 international award given annually to recognize those that agricultural scientists who have worked to end hunger and improve the world’s food supply. This collection consists primarily of Borlaug’s correspondence files, which include paper records as well as some photographs. These papers include materials from six continents relating to the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trago (CIMMYT), Instituto Nacional de Investagaciones Agricolas (INIA), Central Institute for Agrochemical Support of Agriculture (CINAO), several U. S. universities, the Crop Quality Council, DeKalb Agriculture Association, FAO, and the International Rice Research Institutes (IRRI). One highlight is a photocopy of Borlaug’s September 7, 1970 (six weeks before winning the Nobel Prize) letter to William Paddock where he reacts to the highly critical We Don’t Know How and defends the Green Revolution.

 


“The Development of the Modern Steer” #TBT

My fellow former 4-Hers and FFAers who showed cattle may appreciate this one. Over the years, the preferred traits of show cattle have changed quite a bit, as this photo illustrates. This photo shows examples of preferences in show steers (castrated male cattle) from 1878, 1900, and 1930. Of course, these preferences have changed since then. I remember looking at my father’s photos from his cattle showing days in the 1960s and noticing how short and stocky the steers were compared to those that I showed in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Show steer preferences in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 1930. University Photographs, RS 9/11/N, Box 656

Show steer preferences in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 1930. University Photographs, RS 9/11/N, Box 656

If you look closely and read the signs in the background, you’ll notice that in 1878, the winning type was 5 years old (far older than today’s steers) and weighed 2600 lbs. In 1900, the winning type was 3 years old and weighed what I think is 2100 lbs (it’s difficult to read). 1930 was much closer to today’s standards with 1 year, 7 months old and 1170 lbs.

For additional photos of show animals and much, much more, stop in sometime!

 


The Archives — Satisfy your Curiosity

Today’s blog post was authored by Margaret Weber. Margaret is PhD candidate for the Department of History at Iowa State University.

Margaret Weber talking about her experiences in the archives with HIST 195 students in the Special Collections & University Archives classroom in 405 Parks during their class visit to the archives in Spring 2015

Margaret Weber talking about her experiences in the archives with HIST 195 students during their visit to SCUA in Spring 2016 (photograph by Rachel Seale)

Why go to the archives? This is a question that has been asked of me a lot, especially by my students. I have often witnessed many Iowa State students pass the Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) on the fourth floor of the library.  A few brave souls venture in. Some spare a quick glance at the glass exhibit case and closed door. Most though pass by without another thought. What exactly is behind that closed door? And perhaps more importantly, what can the Iowa State archives offer to its students, faculty, staff, and the public at large? The answer…a place to satisfy your curiosity. For behind that closed door is a gateway to documents and artifacts that magnify our past and help us understand the present.

 

In a world of digitization and computer screens, what value is there in a stuffy place where old documents exist? Can’t the answer just be found online? Despite many advancements in digital collections in the past several years, those online documents pale in comparison to the type and variation offered at Special Collections across the country, including Iowa State’s. Lots of one of a kind videos, books, pictures, scrapbooks, artifacts, and other archival material can only be found here. There is something special about holding a document in your hands, seeing the text itself. It is a chance to truly get a feel for the quantities of our collective past. To use those documents to create a narrative of your own.

 

Nowhere else on campus offers such an in-depth look into the university’s history and life. Want to find out what university life was like in the roaring 1920s? Go to the archives to look at dance cards and homecoming pictures. Was there student unrest in the 1960s? Find the answer in the archives by reading through the Daily’s opinion section. Want to locate your grandfather’s or grandmother’s master thesis? It’s here in the archives, along with all of the other theses and dissertations. From the Manhattan Project to Morrill Act, there is lots explore on the fourth floor.

Woman conducting research in the Special Collections & University Archives reading room in the Parks Library.

Margaret Weber conducting research in the SCUA reading room this fall (photograph by Petrina Jackson)

But it is not just Iowa State history documented here. The library’s archives also hold vast collections on technological and scientific advancements, developments in agriculture, political history, and much more. In my own personal research on agriculture in the postwar period, the various non-ISU manuscript collections have proven to be invaluable. Very few other archives cover such a wide range of rural life and the development of America’s food system. All archives, including Iowa State’s, play an important role in preserving pieces of our history.

 

And finally, while the university is a place to ask questions, its archives represents an opportunity to formulate your own answers. One of the greatest things about academic life is the expansion of the mind, the ability to ask questions, and find possible solutions. Curiosity is the fuel on the fire of learning. And the archives, like its classrooms, computer labs, and scientific laboratories, are just another resource for students to use to satisfy that inquisitiveness.


Chemistry Lab: Where Everybody Knows Your Name #TBT

Bowler hats, handlebar mustaches, lovely updos, and glass bottles – aside from the fact that this photo is not in a bar, it could fit right in with the other photos in the introduction to 1980s TV show Cheers.

Students in a chemistry laboratory, circa 1892. University Photographs, RS 13/6/F, Box 1052.

Students in a chemistry laboratory, circa 1892. University Photographs, RS 13/6/F, Box 1052.

Like the theme song (and this post’s title) suggest, this chemistry lab was small enough that everybody in the class probably did know everybody else’s names. Chemistry has been a part of the Iowa State curriculum since the beginning. The department was established in 1871. Originally taught in Old Main, chemistry courses were taught in the Chemical and Physical Laboratory from 1871 until 1913, when it was destroyed by fire. So, the lab in the photo above no longer exists (and would most likely not be up to current standards anyway). It was located at what is now the south end of Pearson Hall, across from Beardshear Hall (formerly the location of Old Main).

More information on the old Chemical and Physical Laboratory can be found here. Stop by and see some more photos from the early days of chemistry at Iowa State, along with many other departments. We’re always glad you came!


Gloria Steinem’s 1984 visit to ISU #TBT @iowastatedaily @GloriaSteinem

When reading the Iowa State Daily today I was pleased to see an article on Pat Miller and her role in building the ISU Lectures Program. It is a vibrant program and has had as many as 177 lectures in a year. The article mentions Gloria Steinem‘s participation in the ISU Lectures Program. I thought it would be fun to share an article about Gloria Steinem’s first lecture from the Bomb, the Iowa State University yearbook printed from 1894-1994. If you didn’t catch her previous lectures, you are in luck! Gloria Steinem is returning to campus, on October 11.

Pages 92-93 of the 1985 Bomb. The white string vertically crossing page 93 is  a weight. We use weights to gently hold down pages without putting undue pressure on the spine of our books. The pages describe Women's Week '84 at ISU, pictured are Gloria Steinem at her "Everyday Rebellions" lecture, people protesting Steinem's lecture, and the prediction run.

Pages 92-93 of the 1985 Bomb. The white string vertically crossing page 93 is  a weight. We use weights to gently hold down pages without putting undue pressure on the spine of our books. The pages describe Women’s Week ’84 at ISU, pictured are Gloria Steinem at her “Everyday Rebellions” lecture, people protesting Steinem’s lecture, and the prediction run.

Drop by the Reading Room to check out the Bomb! We’re open Monday – Friday from 9-5. You can also view all of the Bombs online, thanks to Digital Initiatives!

 


Rare Book Highlights: Like a Boss

Clavius, Christoph. Gnomonices libri octo. Rome, 1581.

In 1581, Christopher Clavius, a German Jesuit mathematician and astronomer, published what has been called the most comprehensive work on sundials of the period, Gnomonices libri octo. Clavius is most famous for his involvement in the development of the Gregorian calendar, which is the modern Western calendar in use today. The work is full of impressive tables and diagrams, but what I really want to focus on is the binding of the particular copy in our collection.

Cover of book in light-colored leather with metal pieces in the corners

Cover of Clavius’ Gnomonices Libri Octo

Our copy of Gnomonices is a first edition, published in 1581. Books printed at that early date, and continuing until the 19th century, were typically sold unbound. That means that the book was sold as a block of pages sewn together and covered in plain paper covers or boards, and the purchaser would take the book to a bookbinder to have a custom binding created for it. Often purchasers would have all the books in his library bound in the same style. That means that copies of early books could have vastly different types of binding. Our copy of Gnomonices is interesting because it has a fairly elegant binding with lots of hardware.

Close up of hole in leather showing wooden board underneath

Close up of hole in leather showing wooden board underneath (click for larger image)

Geometrical patterns stamped onto leather

Close up of blind tooling (click for larger image)

The binding material is blind-tooled pigskin over wooden boards. Let’s break that down. Pigskin is a type of tanned leather that was popular in Germanic and Scandinavian countries, made from pigs, as the name suggests. Tooling refers to the designs pressed into the leather made with metal hand-tools. If you are crafty, you might have done some leather tooling yourself. Blind-tooled simply means that the impressions are made directly into the leather, making an impression on the surface. Alternatively, the binding could have gold tooling, in which gold leaf is applied to the surface of the leather, leaving a gold pattern on the surface of the leather.

The binding also features a number of metal objects. Attached to the corners are bosses, metal knobs that slightly elevate the book from the table surface, protecting the leather from wear. These were features of medieval bookbinding, but they were also used later as decorative features. The book also shows evidence of clasps, which have come off the book over the years.

Metal corner on edge of book featuring an upraised knob in center

Close-up of boss

Clasps were another medieval bookbinding feature and were designed to protect the integrity of the binding, keeping the book closed during movement and thus easing the strain on the joints, where the boards were attached to the block of pages. These books were large, heavy objects!

Close-up of clasp remains

Close-up of clasp remains

What does it mean that this book was bound the way it was? By the 16th century the use of bosses and clasps were fading away as books were becoming more affordable through Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type and the spread of the printing press throughout Europe. Their use in this case then is primarily decorative. The bosses and stamps, as well as the tooled leather, suggest that this was the purchase of a particularly wealthy individual or institution. Was it bound as it was to join an illustrious library of many generations containing medieval manuscripts? Was it the prized possession of an individual and bound to enhance the prestige of the owner? What do you think?