I had a chance this week to look at and talk about bindings in the company of Jo, a trainee conservator. Jo is studying for the MA in Conservation Studies at the renowned West Dean College in Sussex and she’s currently on placement at the Cambridge Colleges’ Conservation Consortium.
She came over to the library with Edward, one of the conservators, to learn about conservation from a librarian’s perspective – how we prioritise which books to conserve and how we liaise with conservators to make treatment decisions – and to see both some of the conservation work that has been carried out recently and some original early bindings. I’m always fascinated by how differently conservators look at books, the details they notice that pass the rest of us by.
The attention to detail even extends to the boxes they’ve made in which the manuscripts are stored.
I also showed Jo some of the manuscripts with early bindings in the collection. My favourite is MS 542, a tiny (7x5cm) prayer book which Matthew Parker’s son gave to his wife Frances c. 1570. The cover is embroidered in silk thread with a design of chrysanthemums and pansies. Jo photographed it with a pencil to give some idea of its size. When we looked at the images of the cover on Parker on the Web, we were able to zoom in and see every stitch – and identify some repairs done in blue thread which were invisible to the naked eye
(Thanks to Jo for the photos.)