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Medieval Household Books

Posted: Wed May 22, 2013 5:20 pm
by moosiemoosiegander
Hello all

I've oft been told apocryphally that medieval 'household books' existed mainly in the form of collections of notes held together in a flap book or wallet-type binding rather than as a single volume. However, I have never seen an example of either such a wallet/binding or the notes for myself.

Did such things exist and if so, where may I find examples of such?

Many thanks for any and all help that can be given.

Re: Medieval Household Books

Posted: Wed May 22, 2013 7:46 pm
by guthrie
That's a good question, but a search using a certain popular search engine doesn't provide many answers at all.

Re: Medieval Household Books

Posted: Wed May 22, 2013 8:25 pm
by gregory23b
A few of the book types you mention exist, whether for 'household' or not is debatable, yet the Account book of Nicholas Greenhaulgh of Suffolk, circa 1450 survives (I have handled it)and it is a soft bound 'flap book', this type of binding seems used for any non-permanent book, for example sketch books and accounts.

The Wolfegg Hausbuch might also be of a similar binding type.

Leonardo's sketch books were also made in a similar way.

I have made a fair few of these and use them for a variety of commonplace books or even notebooks.

The Paston letters collection has a French primer which is described as being self covered, ie made of the paper itself without a leather or other cover, so that offers other possibilities.

Given the above, you are on safe ground for a non-valuale binding for such items.

Re: Medieval Household Books

Posted: Wed May 22, 2013 8:36 pm
by moosiemoosiegander
Thanks so much for that information, very interesting indeed and it has certainly given me some stuff to go on.

So, with that in mind would the 'wallet' type binding be acceptable for say, recipes etc or would that be conjecture?

Re: Medieval Household Books

Posted: Wed May 22, 2013 9:27 pm
by moosiemoosiegander
And one more question (sorry!). Would the notebook exist as a series of written pages that were then bound (like with more valuable manuscripts) or would they have existed as a blank notebook that was then filled in? If the former was the case then how are single pages bound, since most bindings are done onto folded gathers? How would a collection of single sheets be bound?

Sorry if this all seems obvious, but I have reached a research brick wall!
(And that was more than one question...)

Re: Medieval Household Books

Posted: Tue May 28, 2013 8:55 am
by gregory23b
Mmm, as to the contents, that is up to you, the bindings seem cheap and possibly ephemeral, however, part of me also thinks they are simply a cheap and easy binding.

Your second question is a good one, do you have a book pre-made with all the blank pages, or do you build it as you go? The Greenhaulgh book has some sections bound in blue thread and others in white, at first glance it might be viewed as added on sections when required or did he not have enough thread to bind all the sections at once. I err on the add the sections as you go, mainly due to the frugal nature of the medievals, then agin if you intend to create a small book then you would simply add what you need. Having said that, the flap book arrangement easily allows for addition of new sections whilst remaining well wrapped.

Re: Medieval Household Books

Posted: Tue May 28, 2013 1:38 pm
by moosiemoosiegander
It's an interesting thing actually and I've had a couple of interesting finds since posting the original question. The main thing I have found out is that there seem to be no hard and fast rules as regards medieval books, especially the more ephemeral or cheaper kind.

I've found a few examples of tacket bound books held with blue or white thread and with clear evidence of leaves being bound in at a later date, as you say. There also seem to be numerous examples of singletons appearing in quires, glued together to form a bifolium and then stitched in as normal.

Fascinating stuff!

Re: Medieval Household Books

Posted: Mon Jun 03, 2013 5:30 pm
by Benedict
I'm afraid I'm enough of a geek to have researched medieval bookbinding techniques, shadowed a couple of manuscript conservators and authentically bound the manuscript I copied.

J. Szirmai "The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding" is the definitive book on the subject. It's not cheap and may be hard to track down - and it may not have much to say about soft bindings, since they don't survive very well.

Firstly, it's worth remembering how a manuscript is created. Modern paperbacks glue a series of individual pages together (so after fifty years/a summer on the beach they start falling out). Modern hardbacks sew groups of folded pages onto a spine.

Medieval manuscripts start with a sheet of parchment. Parchment is animal skin and animals are roughly rectangular (when you chop off the legs etc). So, you take a large rectangle of parchment and fold it up (no more than seven times - that's all that the physics allows) to give you a smaller rectangle of pages; slice along the still-folded short edge, and you have a little booklet or 'gathering'. A manuscript is essentially a collection of gatherings, which are eventually sewn onto end-bands in the middle of the spine which fix onto wooden boards, and then have head-bands sewn at the top and bottom of the spines to limit movement.

Of course, you don't *need* to bind the gatherings together. You can always keep a gathering loose. The view I had from the conservator at York Minster Library a few years back was that 'soft' bindings would have been much more common than the surviving evidence suggests. There are references to books or shorter texts "in quaternis" which seems to suggest a couple of gatherings.

There is some interesting evidence from late Anglo-Saxon England. Some of the manuscripts of homilies (sermons) seem to contain groups of gatherings which had been used 'loose' for some time and, later, bound into a single manuscript. Each gathering had a coherent set of texts which could stand on its own. Tellingly, several of these gatherings had folds down the middle (i.e. the booklet had been folded even smaller, presumably for ease of carrying), and the front and back showed much more wear than the rest. The inference is that these preaching texts were carried around separately, presumably by clergy going out and preaching, and much later were bound into a single manuscript.

It might be worth getting in touch with a manuscript conservator, given that this is a fairly specialised subject. Most libraries with a lot of manscripts will either have one or have one on tap, so that's probably the easiest way to get in touch.

Re: Medieval Household Books

Posted: Mon Jun 03, 2013 5:36 pm
by moosiemoosiegander
That's brilliant, thanks! Any ideas how the loose quires were kept together? I've seen manuscripts with filing holes and a tacket bound quire in a seperate cover, but nothing for loose leaves (like a folder etc).

Re: Medieval Household Books

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2013 3:03 pm
by Benedict
First off, there are some very helpful photos of the type of bookbinding I've described here ... s-style-of. It's described as 'Carolingian', but that's largely because the extant manuscript bindings from the 8th-11th century are from the Frankish world. Rebinding a book involves destroying the old binding, and nothing survives from the Anglo-Saxon world bar the Stonyhurst Gospels (which are much smaller and bound differently). FWIW there are some bindings from scriptoria set up by English missionaries which use the 'Carolingian' binding, and the consensus from the experts seems to be that the same technique was almost certainly in use in England as well.

If you have loose quires, you don't strictly need an extra form of binding. It's probably easiest to describe. Take an A3 sheet of paper. Fold it in half. Then fold it in half again. You have an A5 booklet of eight pages (a quire or gathering). Take a knife and slice along the short edge so that you can turn the pages - but don't cut it all of the way along, so there's a little bit of parchment/paper left at the join. Parchment is fairly tough stuff, so that will let you use the gathering as a booklet without needing to sew anything together. It'll be a nuisance if you're preaching from the gathering, but it's fine while you're still copying the manuscript.

The obvious way to hold the quire (or a couple of quires) together is just to prick holes along the spine and sew them. A couple of long-ish stitches, perhaps an inch apart, with the thread running inside the quire, should be fine. That's the way the Stonyhurst Gospels are bound - because it's a small book, there's no need to run the binding stitches around end-bands. You sew together one quire, then move down and sew the next one, and so forth - and then glue the (blank) front and back page of the first and last gathering onto your wooden boards. And thine uncle is called Bob.

Courtesy of Pinterest ( ... ng-how-to/), you might want to look at this ... nding.html, which gives examples of medieval 'limp binding' based on Szirmai's work. I've seen the design before (usually in EH gift shops) and had assumed it was a re-enactorism - so now I know that it's an authentic design, just dodgily executed. 8-)

Re: Medieval Household Books

Posted: Sat Jun 29, 2013 7:45 pm
by gregory23b
'which gives examples of medieval 'limp binding' based on Szirmai's work. I've seen the design before (usually in EH gift shops) and had assumed it was a re-enactorism - so now I know that it's an authentic design, just dodgily executed. 8-)'

Household books, viz Greenhaulgh in Ipswich, some of Leonardo's sketch books are soft bound, agree with the dodgy execution, a tendency to have strips of leather for the binding for a rustic look, these books are the simplest to make.