Bookbindings of the Bolton Library #1

by Olivia Lardner, Bolton Cataloguer

ne of the great strengths of the Bolton Library – and a source of endless delight for this cataloguer – is its bookbindings. Admittedly, they have suffered somewhat over the centuries: all spines are a tad degraded and torn, and any blind- or gold-tooling thereupon largely rubbed – damage typically sustained by covers over time as they protect the precious textblocks inside – but the quantity of contemporary binding in evidence across the collection is nonetheless impressive.


The first offering in the theme is this sumptuous and very well-preserved late 16th century blind-tooled 1 calfskin binding over wooden boards, which covers Orazio Torsellino’s lengthy life of Saint Francis Xavier De Vita Francisci Xaverii (Antwerp : Joachim Trognesius, 1596), published just three years before the author’s death.


De Vita Francisci Xaverii (Antwerp, 1596)


It has been beautifully decorated with cameos, or heads in medallions, an assortment of which borders an empty central panel.


The many faces of the 16th century


Dated ownership markings

The front cover bears the initials of its former owner WTK, dated 1597, provenance which is borne out inside by a full signature: Wytzo T’a Kaminijga Ao. 1597. This is most likely Wytze van Cammingha of Friesland 2, a province of modern-day Netherlands.


Its former owner


Wytze van Cammingha


Metal clasps

Metal clasps are also in evidence. Clasps were commonly used with wooden boards into the 16th century to prevent cockling 3. As the use of wooden boards waned, so too clasps were replaced by ties and thongs. 4

The lower-upper cover direction in which the metal clasps close confirms that this is a Benelux or German binding, as opposed to being French or English in origin, where the upper-lower direction was preferred. 5


Surviving metal clasps


Librarians and cataloguers of old were often wont to ignore or sacrifice such copy-specific information – those bits and pieces in, on and about an item which are unlikely to be associated with any other copy in existence, such as the cameo binding and 1597 provenance seen in this example – in favour of the simplified ‘book list’ approach to the describing collections, and the catalogues produced about the library at Cashel were scarcely different. This is understandable, for reasons of economy and speed: compare this item’s concise two-line entry in the 1873 printed catalogue to the detailed 40-line exposition by yours truly for the Glucksman Library’s digital catalogue, a catalogue not constrained by concerns of bulk or shelfspace, paper or ink costs.

The cataloguing project underway at the University of Limerick, therefore, aims to produce the most complete catalogue of the Bolton Library to date, describing not just the printed works and manuscripts themselves, but also for the first time presenting comprehensive paper, provenance, bookbinding and fragment detail in evidence throughout the collection. This is what we term a ‘whole artefact’ approach, where we have ceased to simply list the books, but describe every facet of what are now unique objects in the Bolton Library.


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  1. Decoration impressed onto binding material without the use of colour or leaf.[]
  2. Nieuw Nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek. Deel 5, DNBL.[]
  3. Wrinkling or puckering of paper or board.[]
  4. Pearson, D. et al (2010). Bookbinding. British Library Preservation Advisory Centre, p. 8, available here.[]
  5. Bookbinding and the conservation of books, Conservation Online.[]