52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: Week 23
Large 17th centry Saints’ Lives bound in blind rolled pigskin with a Monastic inscription
This week’s binding gem comes from one of the greatest untapped collections in the Department of Special Collections: the r17 collection. This collection gathers together all European imprints up to 1700 not already found in the Typographical Collection or any other of the named collections. Its size is estimated at somewhere around 5000 volumes, of which the vast majority have not been catalogued.
St Andrews copy of the 1617-1618 Cologne printing of Laurentius Surius’s Vitae Sanctorum (or The lives of saints) is from this collection [r17 BX4654.S8C17]. Surius’s text first appeared as a six volume set printed between the years 1570-1577; and this early 17th century printing is the third edition and is issued as 12 volumes collected into four physical tomes.
This set stood out on the shelf next to a bunch of other brown calfskin bindings: each of the four volumes measures 38 cm in height, and St Andrews’ copy has been bound in contemporary pigskin on wooden boards with thick raised bands. Passing through the stacks, I pulled the first volume down and saw how well preserved the binding was: the detail of the blind roll-stamp was still in great condition, the initial and date stamp of “1632” was still clean and clear and both of its contemporary clasps were in good condition. This was true for all four of the volumes, and so this set makes for a worthy addition to the binding gems.
There are a few clues as to how and why this book was bound this way. Each volume has a monastic inscription on the title page (see below): Monasterij Gottwicij. This is almost certainly the Benedictine Abbey at Göttweig. In this case, this hagiographic text is an ideal candidate for inclusion in any Monastic library, and was probably bound in wooden boards and pigskin for durability’s sake. Each volume has the initials “DG CAG” and the date “1632” stamped and filled in with black ink on the front boards. The clasps of v. 1 have the initials “B-I” on both the clasp plates and the clasps, and vols. 2-4 have the initials “CB” on the clasps (see above).