52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: Week 10

Friday 19 August 2011

Rare 17th century deerskin binding

Of all the different types of leathers used to bind books after the medieval period, deerskin is one of the most uncommon.  Deerskin is quite often found on medieval books, as well as a source for writing material historically and globally, but it was largely superseded as a binding skin by calfskin, sheepskin, and goatskin (whose skins were cleaner, less rough and came from a domesticated source), although it was sometimes used in fine 18th and 19th century bindings.

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Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the odd-shaped clamshell box housing TypBG.C96SL and found an example of a very rough 17th century Scottish deerskin wrapper. This wrapper, which was the original binding material for St Andrews’ copy of Sir David Lindsay’s Works printed in Glasgow by Robert Sanders ( 1696), was taken off of the text block and kept with the rebound and repaired text in this box, made by the conservator in 1981; the book had been in our collection since 1954. The skin wrapper has become quite rigid since its removal, but provides an interesting example of crude binding, as the sewing structure, vellum paste-downs and ties remain. The deerskin, with its hair still showing, is a great reminder that the material used to bind these historic collections came from walking, breathing creatures.


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