Special Collections and University Archives

Preserving the Past for the Future

by Audrey Sage

The Preservation department of the Special Collections and University Archives manages the care and maintenance of the various collections.  This ranges from minor repair and stabilization of the circulating collections to extensive conservation treatments for our rare books and manuscripts.  As the research and lending library landscapes evolve and change, the development of special collections has expanded. The value of primary resources for research and learning has grown. The development of digitization to broaden the accessibility of these items and the information they contain has become a vital and exciting resource. The viewing and handling of special collections items, sometimes dating back four hundred years provides a sense of awe and appreciation for the handcrafted and carefully constructed volumes that have survived those many years.  Our job further protects and preserves these historical artifacts to provide the experience, the information and maintain the object’s integrity for centuries to come.

The Special Collections unit recently received a generous donation from historian and friend of Jackson Library, Norman Smith. This gift is a unique volume of the Book of Hours, from the third quarter of the 15th century.  It is believed to have been made for the Use of Rome. The ranking of the patron saint of Paris with the more generally revered Steven and Eligius suggests that the book was made in Paris, but not necessarily for local use. It is scribed in Latin using a gothic textura script in brown ink on vellum pages. The volume has a notation on the inner flyleaf noting the current calf cover binding and marble endpapers are from 1801. 

This book of hours includes 24 miniatures with three quarter borders in blue and red grounds with white tracery and gold fillers. These miniatures show occupations and figures representing the signs of the Zodiac. 

Vellum is a unique and durable writing surface prepared from calfskin. It is cleaned, bleached and stretched. On this page, you can see where the scribe has used the side of the skin that still shows the pores on the surface.

There are 10 large miniature in arched compartments whose subjects are: St. John, The Annunciation, The Crucifixion, The Pentecost, The Nativity, The Annunciation to the Shepherds, The Adoration of the Magi, The Presentation in the Temple, The Flight into Egypt and The Coronation of the Virgin.

This front hinge had worn and the cover had pulled away from the volume.  We were able to surface clean the pages, cover, and spine, create a new Japanese paper hollow to reinforce the spine and reattach the cover.  A paper hinge mend was attached and decorated with coordinating pigments to blend the repair.

A custom built clamshell enclosure was constructed to house this beautiful volume, preserving it for the future and making it more secure for usage as a teaching and instructional resource.

  1. Jim Carmichael says:

    Wow! What a beauty! Many thanks to Norman Smith and Audrey Sage & Company. Just seeing this gorgeous work and your work on it restores some of my faith in humanity.

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