Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287, Pierre d’Ailly, Meditationes super Septem Psalmos Penitentiales

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 (Margaret M. Manion, Vera F. Vines, and Christopher de Hamel, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in New Zealand Collections (Melbourne, London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 1989), no. 36), Pierre d’Ailly, Meditationes super Septem Psalmos Penitentiales, France, second half of the fifteenth century.[1]

When this book was purchased by Henry Shaw in 1905, the bookseller’s catalogue description highlighted its “original binding of oak boards covered with ornamentally stamped leather.”[2] The book is bound on five double, tawed supports which have been laced into its two wooden boards over the top of the outer face of each board. The edges of the boards are beveled. The leather used for the cover is tanned sheepskin; it has been decorated within two frames of four blind rules. The tooling is described in detail by Manion, Vines, and de Hamel. Of special note is the “roll-tool of double half-rosettes interfilled with quatrefoils” that they describe. Roll tools were, much like panel stamps, an earlier medieval invention that took hold in the context of printing, late in the fifteenth-century and especially in the sixteenth; like panels, they enabled binders to decorate large spaces of covers quickly.[3] The book once had two fastenings, affixed to the top and bottom of the outer edge of each board, but only the holes left by nails and plates in the leather and boards now remain.

Also of interest here, in part because it is something of a contrast to the quite elaborate tooling of the cover and the use of five supports, are the book’s two endbands. These are composed of a very narrow (> 5mm diameter) core of tawed leather sewn with plain thread. The result is rather flimsy, and the attachment of the endbands to the quires is “abbreviated”—we can see only five threads attaching each band to the fifteen quires of the textblock. (More elaborate and sturdy medieval endbands were often sewn into every quire.) Like the roll, the abbreviation of endband attachment was a way to speed up the binding process, and is seen more commonly in the late fifteenth century and the era of print than earlier in the Middle Ages.[4] Endbands with abbreviated sewing were a harbinger of the “glued-on” endbands that also begin to appear in this period, providing decoration but no structural function to the book—see our blogposts on Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.1588 and Alexander Turnbull Library MSR-26, and the discussion of Canterbury University Library manuscript of Sallust’s De Bello Jurgurthino in our Script & Print article, pp. 215-7.

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 – endband

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 – endband

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 – endband2

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 – endband and double supports

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 – original wooden boards

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 – original            wooden boards

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 – tooling and remains of clasps

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 – tooling and remains of clasps

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 – tooling detail

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.287 – tooling detail


[1] See also Migrations: Medieval Manuscripts in New Zealand, ed. Stephanie Hollis and Alexandra Barratt (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2007), 5, 63 and 186.

[2] Donald Kerr, “Sir George Grey and Henry Shaw,” in Migrations, ed. Hollis and Barratt, 49-71 (64).

[3] J. A. Szirmai, The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding (Farnham: Ashgate, 1999), 243-45.

[4] Nicholas Pickwoad, “Onward and Downward: How Bookbinders Coped with the Printing Press 1500-1800,” in A Millennium of the Book: Production, Design and Illustration in Manuscript and Print, 900-1900, ed. Robin Myers and Michael Harris (Winchester: St Paul’s Bibliographies, 1994), 61-106 (80-85).

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