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Tru Vue blog: The Montefiascone Conservation Project, ‘Dirk de Bray and Beyond’

Emma Fraser is a book and archive conservators for The Book & Paper Studio, Dundee. A Tru Vue grant allowed her to visit Montefiascone, Italy, and learn how books were made four centuries ago.  

In August I got the chance to spend a week in the beautiful medieval Italian town of Montefiascone learning how books were made 400yrs ago according to Dirck de Bray’s ‘A Short Instruction in the Binding of Books’ and under the expert tutelage of Anne Hillam and Maria Fredricks.  De Bray is believed to have written his manual in 1658 and it is one of the earliest known bookbinding manuals.

With the manual as a guide we produced five books by the end of the week and thoroughly explored the 17th Century Dutch book trade and the materials used at the time. The bindings included a laced, cased parchment bindings with inserted boards, another bound in-board both closely following de Bray’s instructions and a moulded parchment binding over raised cords. 


Anne Hillam demonstrating Covering

The course offered the opportunity to examine the unseen aspects of construction such as sewing, end bands and board types. Following de Bray’s instructions we sewed our models on double parchment bands that are later trimmed to form pointed bands, or ‘spitsels’ which are then are laced through the cover. We examined various methods of end banding as this is an important feature on these bindings. I sewed nine end bands in total over the week, including that first one that you always have to redo! These included a worked, stuck-on end band, which consisted of a parchment strip wrapped with textile then adhered to spine and worked in situ. We took an in depth look the boards used. Anne gave a comprehensive presentation on the history of pasteboards, detailing all variations and we then had the opportunity to produce  pasteboards for our models using waste paper and flour paste. 
My highlight of the course was the opportunity to work with wet parchment in the covering process of the bindings. 

For the first two de Bray models parchment was lined with paper using flour paste and worked around the book block while still damp as per his instructions, making it easier to manipulate a notoriously resistant material.  For the raised cord binding we used a totally saturated parchment to mould around the paper lined spine.  Working with such wet skin was truly unique experience, as conservators we are usually so careful to make sure parchment does not get saturated. 

I’m very grateful to TruVue and Icon for the grant that enabled me to attend this incredibly beneficial and informative class.


Header image: A demonstration by Anne Hillam


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