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The Fairfax Bible (1290)

Posted: 2016-05-28 06:59


Recently, one of the most historically relevant and archaic books I have ever worked upon passed through the workshop. The " Biblia Sacra Latina Editionis Vulgatae ", (more commonly referred to as, " The Fairfax Bible ), came to me with it's cover in a very dry, worn and degraded condition. Drawn from the Fairfax Archive, it was very evident following my initial assessment, interventive treatment would be required. The text block was compiled of vellum leaves dating from the late 13c., with hand inscribed Latin scriptures displayed in the ' double column ' presentation. As is commonly found in liturgical books of this period the text had also been augmented throughout with numerous illuminated, Historiated Capitals and representative Marginalia. Although, for whatever reason a number seemed to have been deliberately ' cut out '. After consultation with the owner it was decided, that due to the problems which can be encountered in controlling the reactive properties of vellum, it was my client's choice that no treatment was to be undertaken on the folios.

The forwarding methods used in the binding's structure indicated the book had been rebound sometime in the mid 19c. It had been gathered as single bi-fold sections and sewn onto 5 x raised, either Jute or Hemp cords, with two colour thread, single core ' rolled ' parchment, Headbands. Endpapers were of the simple ' tipped-on ' variety. The binding was given a full covering and a ' tight back ' spine finish. Both Headbands were in need of repair and reattachment.




Initially, a light soap wash of the leather was administered to remove any ingrained, surface dirt. Following this my attention was given to the preliminary and vellum leaves by brushing away, mechanically all traces of abrasive particles which may have harmed the permanence of the inscriptions. The location of the gutter margins are particularly prone to such accumulations.


The split front endpaper inner-joints were repaired with a reinforcing lining of Tosa Washi Japanese repair tissue. Lacunae located at the foot of the fly leaf was infilled with matching ' wove mould ' paper using standard western conservation techniques.

Treating the cover all loose fragments were detached, and a more defined profiling of the infilling areas were traced. Utilising Bank paper, profile template patterns were traced from the upper board and Headcap areas, and then subsequently transferred to the Fair Calf repair leather. The repair leather was cut marginally oversize, pared to the appropriate thickness for working overall and then further edge pared. The working sequence was to repair and fashion the Headcap first, to be followed by the split outer-joints, then the foredge of the upper board, and lastly the underlaying of the corners was carried out.

The following photographs depict, in sequence, the restoration treatments in progress. The application of the period dye staining treatment, using a combination of spirit/aniline dye solution is also shown. Following a 24 hour drying period the cover was lightly, fed and dressed with a conservation compound of Beeswax, Lanolin and Hexane to act as a long term humectant fin the leather to prevent further drying.

A third party agent had been previously commissioned by the owner to construct a detachable lid, archival box to house the repaired manuscript. Being critical here, the concept of a loose detachable lid is not ideally the most the most secure way to protect an item of such antiquity as this. One also has to bear in mind ,when a book is being treated during repair; sometimes minor structural and dimensional changes may occur. If a box is made pre-treatment, there is always a chance a custom fit may not be achieved. Therefore, as a general rule it is advised that bespoke storage boxes/containers are constructed once restoration is complete.


Split ' outer-joint ' on the upper board. The condition of the dry, degraded leather can be clearly seen in this photograph. The Headband is insecure in it's anchorage, and could easily detach and become lost.


The underlaid, repaired and reshaped Headcap.


The above and following image show the profile contour, and infilling for the upper board repair.



Localised repair of the split ' outer-joint ' on the upper board.


Lining and reinforcing of the front endpaper ' inner-joint '. Lacunae infilled with matching, weight and texture ' wove mould ' repair paper.


Dye staining of the cover to ' blend-in ' the repairs.


The structural function of the refurbished manuscript.


The cover after the dye application.


Minimal spine decoration with two, single gilt rules either side of the raised bands. The paper label is an identifying MS Shelf Mark for the purposes of cataloging the collection.

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