Showing posts with label Nicholas Yeager. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nicholas Yeager. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Medieval Girdle Book by Margit J. Smith

Smith, Margit. The Medieval Girdle Book. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2017.
384 pages, 7.375 x 10.5 inches, hardcover, dust jacket. ISBN: 1584563680 / 9781584563686. $95.00.

Reviewed by  Nicholas Yeager

Girdle books are mysterious, almost mythical structures, designed to allow the owner to “wear” the book, hanging from a long tail attached to one’s belt (girdle). That there are only 26 known survivors of this structure makes them a rare item even to binding historians. Margit J. Smith gives a thorough description of these known examples in The Medieval Girdle Book, having visited libraries in Europe and the United States to research them first hand.

By shedding light on the development and use of girdle books, Margit J. Smith focuses on their construction and materials employed. She isolates the girdle book from other structures and places it in the medieval world as a separate and short-lived use. One wonders why personal, portable books didn’t last and whether the advent of small, portable printed books had some influence in the demise of wearable bibliographic accessories.

Margit J. Smith was an academic cataloging and preservation librarian at the University of San Diego when she attended the Montefiasconi Library Project in 2003 where she took a class on the girdle book, igniting a fourteen year study of this structure.

The mechanical challenges of how to make girdle books have been elusive to most binders as there has been very little published. Pamela Spitzmueller gave a presentation discussing the girdle book at the Guild of Book Workers Standards conference in 2000. Her handout describes briefly the two versions of a girdle book binding that Ms. Smith calls primary and secondary covering styles. All but 2 books are laced onto wooden boards, making the basic structure of the girdle book the same as wooden board bindings of the 14th - 16th centuries. Forwarding a girdle book is no different than contemporary bindings. Even the 2 paper board bindings are forwarded in the same way.

The Medieval Girdle Book reviews the 26 bindings by dividing them into 4 chapters according to each book’s contents: Religious (19); legal (5); philosophical (2); and possible girdle books (8). The thirty-three page introduction gives a thorough description of the 2 types of coverings employed and where and when these bindings were made. Table 1 shows books by location and whether manuscript (20) or printed (6). Table 2 dates and places the the books and again indicates manuscript or print while Table 3 covers the possible girdle books examined. Tables 4 & 5 indicate books that have protective flaps in addition to the extension to hang the book from a belt. An overall survey describes each book in its historical context, the interior or the book, the construction and exterior of the book.

The photography is of a high quality and the overall information is well done, whetting one’s curiosity about each book. The design, typography and printing are well done, making for ease in reading. However there are no indicators within the book to aid the reader in knowing what section or chapter one is in. By sorting the books by subject, one has reason to flip between sections to look at images for comparison. The addition of headers would make for a better reading experience. Lacing-on patterns, paste-downs and images of all sides of a book would have been helpful to discern manufacturing clues.

The Medieval Girdle Book is a well-written book, for the interested binder that will further one’s understanding of the structural and covering solutions employed in making girdle books. While the specifics of all aspects of making a girdle book are hinted at, a conscientious practitioner can infer enough to make one’s own girdle book. Reading this after having read (or along side) of J.A. Szirmai’s The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding (1999) gives the serious binding student a lot of information to help navigate their education in the era of wooden-board binding structures.

Nicholas Yeager is a rare books librarian/historian of the book, scribe and motorcyclist. He is also the creator of Zorbix.