Bodleian CSB Summer School, July 2012: “Bibliography and the study of paper”

from Alexandra Franklin, Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book

This course combined practical and historical studies of paper as it related to all aspects of book and manuscript production in the hand-press period. The principal lecturers, Mark Bland (DeMontfort University) and Andrew Honey (Bodleian Libraries Conservation and Collection Care), described the techniques for examining and recording the evidence of watermarks, chain lines, and the quiring of sheets.

Students looked at examples of paper moulds and learned to be archaeologists of paper in books, detecting the original size of the paper sheets from the bound and trimmed volumes. Guest lecturers highlighted the ways that paper could be used as material evidence, whether examining the state of mind of Jane Austen as she embarked on the writing of a novel, to finding clues of re-writing in Handel’s music manuscripts, to understanding the origins of 15th-century blockbooks.

Some of the questions that arose were,
“Is paper flat?” – Answer: not after printing in the hand-press, and Nicholas Pickwoad offered the view of paper from the perspective of a binding historian, explaining how binders dealt with this problem, as well as showing how different types of paper were used in the binding of books.

“Does this leaf exist?” – Lecturers demonstrated how to establish if pages have been removed or replaced, with an especially illuminating presentation from Donald Burrows on the music manuscripts of Handel.

“How does paper convey meaning?” – Answer: not only as a support for writing, but also through its own quality (fine Italian paper indicating high-status use in early-modern England) and quantity (Kathryn Sutherland remarked on Jane Austen’s use of notebooks with increasing numbers of pages, suggesting that Austen’s confidence as a novelist was growing proportionately).

Friday afternoon was a practical session, with students engaged in measuring paper and deducing the format of early printed books and manuscripts from the Bodleian Special Collections. Armed with clear plastic rulers and small LED flashlights, they measured chain lines, found the “mould” side and “felt” side of the paper, and drew watermarks. A calculator helped, when multiplying page dimensions for determining the size of the sheet.

This week-long course (Monday to Friday) was the first Summer School offered by the CSB. Paper moulds and samples were kindly loaned by the Chantry Library and by the Bodleian’s Bibliography Room. A book loaned by Jesus College, Oxford, provided an example of a English laced-case paper binding from the 17th century. The guest lecturers were Ian Maclean, Kathryn Sutherland, Jane Eagan, Nicholas Pickwoad, Nigel Palmer, and Donald Burrows.

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