Treasure Trash in the Bindings

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and the same applies to the paper used for lining a book’s binding. Hand bookbinders are a frugal lot, and are notorious for recycling pages from old books in the binding of new books, or else using printed waste paper in the bindings.

This practice has yielded many exciting discoveries for the contemporary bibliophile and librarian, and has led to the discovery of hitherto unknown medieval manuscripts, which has in turn inspired the development of new technologies to find these valuable scraps. In the 15th and 16th centuries as the printing press was taking off, book binders tore apart hand copied books, giving deference to new books printed with this new technology, and used the hand copied books as lining. Little did they know how valuable we would consider their trash 500 years later!

The same went for earlier printed books–as they went out of currency, binders used their pages as lining for newer printed books, or used waste paper left over from the printers. This week here at Gleeson we made our very own discovery of such a practice as we moved books out of the Reference Annex.

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The discovery occurred in the series Biographie Universelle, published between 1811-62. Reference and Research Services student assistant Andrew Gonzales pointed out the need for mending some of the volumes in poor condition, which led to our discovery of recycled pages printed in what appears to be a typeface based on the Gothic Textura Quadrata script used for lining the spine. I haven’t the skills or examples robust enough to say more about from what publication these recycled pages came, but the year 1815 appears in the recycled text, so I assume the text was aged 50 years or less before it was recycled.

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We don’t plan to tear apart volumes of Biographie Universelle to find more fragments–we’ve deemed the series valuable to keep as a reference work–but the discovery makes one wonder what other gems are hidden just below the surface of the many volumes held at Gleeson. We’re surrounded by more valuable information than we even know!

One thought on “Treasure Trash in the Bindings”

  1. I didn’t know any of this–that old books sometimes used recycled pages or that we found some here at Gleeson! You really do learn something new every day. Thanks for this blog entry, it was really interesting.

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