Conservation on the Book of Mulling

When the Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60) was received in the Conservation Department of Trinity College back in 1977, it was sporting a binding that had been carried out by the British Museum in the late 19th century. The style of binding was similar to that employed for Codex Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55) (see previous post) and involved the now individual vellum folios being glued around their edges and set into paper panels, before being gathered together and sewn into a leather binding.

Fig. 1 Example of extensive rebuilding of the back margin of f. 2r carried out as part of the 1977 conservation campaign in Trinity College Dublin © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

After removal of this unsuitable structure, the Conservation Department carried out rebinding following extensive repairs to the leaves of the manuscript. This involved new toned and scarfed vellum being ‘let in’ to the more extensive areas of loss, particularly back folds, of which none of the original were now extant (fig. 1). Splits and tears were reinforced with a thin membrane called ‘swim bladder’. The adhesive used for both infills and reinforcing was gelatine.

Fig. 2 Binding of the Book of Mulling, TCD MS 60 © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The re-binding was carried out by Anthony Cains and followed a traditional style, similar to the current structure protecting the Book of Kells (TCD MS 58); sewn on stout vegetable fibre double cords, binding boards of quarter sawn oak laced on using the sewing cords (fig. 2). Hand-sewn endbands were added and also laced into the boards, making a strong mechanical attachment between cover and folios. The book was covered with white alum tawed leather in a quarter-style, leaving most of the timber boards visible.
Almost forty years on, as we prepare the Book of Mulling for imaging, it was interesting to examine in detail how well this binding had served to protect the contents. A combination of high quality work and materials combined with careful curatorship ensured that little remedial work was required.

The work that was carried out involved reinforcing some micro-splits along the edges of some folios and securing the edges of vellum infills that had started to detach and could snag during handling (figs. 3-4). This was done using Caecum, another form of collagen, similar to the swim bladder. Tiny pieces of this very thin material were cut to shape using a special ‘swivel knife’ and adhered using 12% fish gelatine.

John Gillis – Preservation & Conservation Department