Mending Martin

In preparation for the Burke Library’s upcoming exhibition on Martin Luther, I am examining and treating some of the Library’s many Luther pamphlets. The Library holds thousands of pamphlets, and more than two dozen relating to the Reformation will be featured in the exhibit.

The sewing in this 1520 Luther pamphlet had broken and several leaves were detached (left). The spine folds were mended with thin Japanese tissue and the pamphlet was resewn through its original sewing holes (right). The few remaining fragments of the original sewing thread were left in place.

The Conservation Department works with the curator, Matthew Baker, to ensure that any items in unstable condition are conserved: tears are mended, loose leaves are reattached, and the parts are made whole again.

The first leaf of another pamphlet was tearing at the spine (left). The leaf attachment is stabilized with thin Japanese tissue hinge (right). This small mend minimizes the risk of greater damage occurring in the future.

Extensive notes were made throughout this pamphlet.

The remains of a small brown leather tab on the fore-edge indicate a former leaf tab marker, added when this pamphlet was bound in a collection.

At nearly 500 years old, these pamphlets bear witness to their past use. Extensive notes in the margins, underlining, manicules, and comments are the legacy of past readers. These annotations form an added dimension of interest for scholars today.

While these items were originally issued as individual pamphlets, many were later bound together in collections. Some have been disbound and rebound numerous times as they passed from library to library. There is much to be learned about this history of ownership from the physical evidence: sewing thread in the gutter, layers of paper adhered to the spine, colorful decoration on the edges, exact page dimensions, and leather page markers all carry information about past bindings and collections. Any conservation treatment of the pamphlets must consider all of these forms of information–the printed text, annotations, and the physical evidence–to ensure that they are preserved for future scholars.

I hope you will visit the exhibition this fall in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s Chang Octagon Room and enjoy these remarkable windows into the past!

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