Wellington, Alexander Turnbull Library MSR-26, Psalter

Wellington, Alexander Turnbull Library MSR-26 (not in Manion, Vines, and de Hamel, see description by Alexandra Barratt, “What shall we pack? New Zealand Immigrants and their Manuscripts”, Parergon 30, No. 1 (2013), 81-9): Psalter, Flemish or German, late thirteenth century.

This manuscript (including its binding) has recently been digitized by the Alexander Turnbull Library and is available (accessed 30 August 2012) via TAPUHI on the National Library of New Zealand web site. (Search the Manuscript and Archives Collections, using the reference number MSR-26.) On loan from the Anglican Diocese of Wellington, it came to New Zealand in 1881 with an English immigrant family, who had probably acquired it in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. It is certainly not in its original binding: it is tightly bound but in the second quire (it is both unpaginated and unfoliated) it is possible to see unused slit holes from an earlier binding. The present binding of black, tanned calf over boards, as evidenced by inscriptions on the pastedowns, must be pre-1610, probably late sixteenth-century.

The endband at the tail, which may have been preserved from the earlier binding, has not been laced in but glued on, our first definitive example of this sixteenth-century practice, which is of so much interest as evidence of post-print decline of standards in binding (see also the University of Canterbury Sallust, discussed in our Script & Print article, pp. 215-6, and our remarks in earlier posts on Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MSS S.287 and S.1588). We were unable to detect a precise method for the attachment of this endband, though it may be an example of “an imitation of a primary embroidered endband” of the type illustrated by Szirmai, Fig 9.31,[1] and typical after 1500. It does have primary embroidery alternately in red and plain thread.

The cover is blind ruled (a double rule border at the outer edge, and another around a central panel) and blind stamped: although this has not been captured in our photos, it is possible to discern a faint tree-and-serpent design—presumably the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—in the central panel and small corner flowers. The only traces of fastenings are a single hole at the centre of the edge of each board.

Turnbull Library MSR 26 - endbands

Turnbull Library MSR 26 – endband

Turnbull Library MSR 26 - upper-board

Turnbull Library MSR 26 – upper board

Turnbull Library MSR 26

Turnbull Library MSR 26 – pastedown and opening page

Images here are reproduced by kind permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library; thanks especially to Ruth Lightbourne for her assistance.


[1] J. A. Szirmai, The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding (Farnham: Ashgate, 1999), 216.

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