The fragments of Codex Usserianus Primus (see previous post for background) were, until a few years ago, kept in a late 19th- or early 20th-century binding (fig. 1). Unfortunately, we have no recorded description of how the manuscript was kept prior to this.
The binding, quite elaborate, was covered in a greenish -brown Morocco goatskin, with gold and blind tooling on the boards and spine and hand-sewn multi-coloured endbands, to complete the luxury effect. False raised bands were included across the spine, harking back to earlier construction methods (figs. 1 and 2).1
The individual folio fragments of the manuscript were mounted in a collection of folded tan-coloured, card-like sheets hand sewn into a volume on five thin recessed vegetable fibre cords, a common sewing system for the period (fig. 3).
The irregular outer profile of each of the manuscript fragments was traced onto the card leaves and the shape cut out slightly undersized to allow for an overlap, the edges were sanded, and adhesive, probably animal glue, applied around the circumference of the vellum manuscript fragment before positioning it in the void (fig. 4).
This system is akin to that used in ‘grangerising’, a term coined after James Granger, an 18th-century English clergyman, biographer and print collector who unwillingly prompted a fad for illustrating volumes by inserting numerous prints, mostly cut out from other books. 2 The same technique was often employed to deal with the housing of irregularly-shaped archival material, as in the case of Codex Usserianus Primus.
The modern binding and mounting system proved inadequate on many levels and over time considerable distortion had occurred in the pages, due mostly to the pulling effect of the vellum causing the card to ripple in places. It was therefore decided to remove the binding and to house the folio fragments individually in a more controlled manner and with less direct intervention.
In our next post, we will show you the procedure we have adopted to house the fragments in a safer way.
John Gillis – Preservation & Conservation
- The binding is now kept at the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library and is designated as TCD MS 55*.
- Opposition to this practice was strong, as is summed up by an 1890 article on the topic: ‘Many have bewailed the appearance of this cleric as one of the most disastrous events that have occurred in the realms of ‘book-land,’ akin to something like famine, plague, or conflagration in other departments. Others bless his memory, and have cheerfully consecrated their whole life to carrying out his doctrine’. From ‘Grangerising’, in W. Makepeace Thackeray (ed.), The Cornhill Magazine New Series 14 (Jan.-Jun. 1890), pp. 135-142 (p. 135). See the full article HERE.