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Now that it has been gifted, I can share with you my latest book. A Coronation Book for Ivan and Matilde, Tsar and Tsaritsa of the East Kingdom, in which we invited gentles to share their thoughts and well wishes for Them as they sat in State. I have known in my heart for years that I would bind this book, and I have always seen it as a triptych. I am fortunate to have found an extant example of a book in triptych form and while I couldn’t do the ivory inlay of the original, I believe it came out beautifully. Thanks to my husband Matt for help with the woodworking – bandsaws are not quite my thing! My hope is that They will use it throughout Their reign to record the words of Their people and Their experiences to bring back happy memories in years to come.

Walnut sealed with Beekeepers Gold wax and edged with gold. 80# text weight paper, 11 signatures per side of two sheets each. Barbour linen thread, lightly waxed, in a Coptic chain stitch in 11 stations per side so that the book could lay flat and be more inviting of wishes and signatures. Brass bosses for decoration and protection. Documentation bound into the book itself.

This journal is inspired by a number of extant examples of period books.

It is bound in the form of a triptych, frequently used in religious iconography. There is an extant bookbinding in such a form, MS. Auct. D. 1. 20, a Gregorian Sacramentary which is bound in ivory, wood and metal. The work is listed as both Italian and German in various catalogs of the holding institution; both the 9th and 14th centuries are recorded as well. This could be explained by different dates for the creation of the manuscript and a rebinding of the text block.

Bodleian Library MS. Auct. D. 1. 20

The boards are exposed wood. One example of a book with a “modern” leather spine treatment applied to an older wood case is the Stowe manuscript of the History of the Three Kings or Magi, Stowe Ms 951. This book is 15c English and held in the British Library.

Stowe Ms 951, British Library

Brass bosses are often used on medieval books, and they were not always simple round domes. While round is the dominant style, other forms are to be found. One more pronounced example is that of Add Ms 19896 in the British Library, a work containing Drawings of the Apocalypse and texts of the life of St. John. It is a 15-16thc German work. I am still seeking extant examples of a square or rectangular boss and recently received this book to continue my quest.

Add Ms 19896, British Library

Finally, the binding stitch. A Coptic stitch was used to bind the signatures to each other and the boards. This stitch provides both stability and flexibility – the work stays tight together, but also allows the book to lay flat for writing. A famous example of Coptic sewing is St. Cuthbert’s Gospel (formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel.) This book is held in the British Library and has the shelfmark Add Ms 89000. The book was produced in Northern England in the late 7thC.



St Cuthbert’s Gospel, British Library, cover

St Cuthbert’s Gospel, British Library, spine

St Cuthbert’s Gospel, British Library, binding

St. Cuthbert’s Gospel, British Library, inside cover sewing stations visible

The final question is typically “why is the spine stitching exposed?” I believe that many factors could contribute based on various readings: lack of covering material due to challenges with herd management or funding, aesthetic choice, and flexibility. This type of binding allows a book to lay flat when open to any page, making the book more “user friendly.” In fact, many bindings had exposed spines. The Ethiopian Codex, a form which dates from the 4thc., is the inspiration for this book. It is a bit of a challenge to find digitized images of the extant examples (so a field trip is in order!) The British Library (BL Or. 719), BNF in Paris and the Vatican Library are all said to hold such works. J.A. Szirmai, whose seminal reference book lists these texts, also provides an image of a work in the author’s own collection (J.A. Szirmai. The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. Ashgate, 1999, UK. p.47).

Szirmai, Ethiopian Codex

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