Battered Books

Battered Books: Worth items in need of conservation

This exhibition, curated by Dr. Elizabethanne Boran, draws attention to some items in the Worth Library which are in need of conservation. Two items have already been sent for conservation.

Item 1


Detached cover of Item 1

Item 1
Elias Ashmole

Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum· Containing severall poeticall pieces of our famous English philosophers, who have written the hermetique mysteries in their owne ancient language…

London, 1652. 4o.

This work by the antiquarian, Elias Ashmole, 1617-1692, brings together some of the seminal texts of the English alchemical tradition: Thomas Norton’s ‘The Ordinal of Alchimy’ (d. 1513), numerous works by another late fifteenth-century author, George Ripley (d. c.1490), not to mention the ‘Breviary of Natural Philosophy’ by Thomas Charnock (d. 1581). Ashmole was a keen supporter of the utility of astrology and alchemy and sought to spread alchemical ideas by publishing this collection of English poetry. As its name suggests, it was designed as a counterpart to the famous Theatrum Chemicum printed at Oberursel in 1602.

Condition: Both boards are detached and as a result there is damage to the endpapers. Three white alum tawed board attachments are clearly visible against the grey of the pulpboard cover. It is clear that the pastedown (which would have covered the rather shoddy turn ins) detached relatively soon, since it has been annotated with a shopping list of chemical items. The lack of tooling on the board edges, coupled with the now loose stuck- on endbands at head and tail of the spine also point to a cheap binding.


Item 2: Train timetable inserted into Spanish parchment binding.

Item 2
Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Novena Parte de Comedias del celebre poeta Español Don Petro Calderon de la Barca…

Madrid, 1691. 4o.

Pedro Calderón, 1600-1681, was one of the leading dramatists of seventeenth-century Spain – in both meanings of the word. Awarded the order of Santiago by Philip IV of Spain, he was held in some favour at the Madrid court precisely because his works mirrored the preoccupations of Spanish society. Following his ordination to the priesthood in 1651 he turned to more theological themes, concentrating on the ‘auto sacramentales’ genre (Corpus Christi morality plays), but he did not ignore his earlier more secular plays and eventually produced 120 ‘comedias’, 80 ‘auto sacramentales’ and 20 ‘entremeses’ – short works of a comedic nature. This volume of comedies is the ninth in Worth’s set and had previously belonged to John Conduitt, 1688-1737, who had married Isaac Newton’s niece, Catherine Barton in 1717. Unusually, the parchment covers of these typically Spanish book bindings are scored with either crosses or large ‘X’s. This may have been done to indicate that these were in fact pirated editions.

Condition: In the main, this set of volumes are in good condition, despite the aforementioned scoring of the boards. However, there is some paper damage apparent in the endleaf material and we see here an earlier and decidedly idiosyncratic approach to conservation! In order to support the back board of this parchment lace-cased in boards binding (hitherto known as limp vellum), a 20th century ‘conservator’ has simply pasted a section of a train timetable as a pastedown, and at the front of this volume has inserted another to strengthen the board and act as a buffer between it and a now torn pastedown. The inclusion of this type of material is problematic, given that acidity in the timetable material could well affect the text block.


Item 3


Item 3: detached board and worming.

Item 3


[Colophon: Venetiis in Aedibus Aldi, & Andreae Asulani Soceri Mensae Octobri. | M.D.XXVI.]

Venice (Aldine), 1526. 2o.

This commentary on Aristotle’s Physics by the sixth-century mathematician, Simplicius, c.490-c.560, incorporates much useful material from other early writers, such as the fourth-century BC mathematician, Eudemus of Rhodes, c.350BC-c.290BC. Worth’s decision to shelve this text on physics among his classical collection, rather than with his books of natural philosophy, reflects his abiding interest in the publication of Greek texts in the sixteenth century. The famous Aldine press was particularly influential in this regard and this is, significantly, one of a number of Aldine publications that may be found in the Worth Library. As the colophon note suggests, it was a joint publication by both the Aldine press and that of Andrea Torresani of Asola, the father of Maria Torresani who had married Aldus Manutius in 1505. Torresani and his sons Gian Francesco and Federico, played a vital role in maintaining the press after Manutius’s death in 1515, until his sons came of age. The famous Aldine device of the anchor and dolphin, modeled on Emperor Vespasian’s denarius coin, is clearly visible beneath the broken board.

Condition: This work is one of the most badly damaged of the collection. The back board is partially missing and is in two pieces. Significant worm damage is evident,not only in the binding but also permeating the text itself. More extensive damage is evident at the front and back of the text block, the areas most under threat when a binding is weak. At the back of the book, worm holes have obliterated parts of words in the final quire of the book. The front of the work is missing the first quire completely: a quire which contained the titlepage, a letter from Francesco Torresani to Ercole de Gonzaga, the Bishop of Mantua, and the privilege from Pope Clement VII, dated 22 August, 1526. Indeed, it seems likely that quire a4 and qq4 only survive because they have been strengthened by manuscript guards. This, along with the pastedown at the front of the work, indicates earlier unsuccessful attempts to limit the damage to this binding.

Item 4


Item 4: detached board and spine.

Item 4
Henry More

Philosophicall poems, by Henry More: Master of Arts, and Fellow of Christs Colledge in Cambridge

Cambridge, 1647. 8o.

Henry More, 1614-1687, was one of the leading philosophers of the seventeenth century.Based at Christ’s College in Cambridge, he was instrumental in the development of a group that would later be termed the ‘Cambridge Platonists’: a group including Benjamin Whichcote, 1609–1683, Ralph Cudworth, 1617–1688, and John Smith, 1618–1652, who aimed to offset the predominant aristotelianism of the curriculum with a revival of platonism. More was perhaps the most prolific of them all, being the author of a host of works. This work, his Philosophicall poems, not only reflects the depth of his platonism but also his affiliation to cartesianism. Though he maintained a correspondence with RenéDescartes, and played an important role in introducing the latter’s work to the curriculum, his support for the French philosopher was not total: he could accept cartesian physics but not the implications of Descartes’ metaphysics for his ‘Spirit of Nature’. At the top of the exposed titlepage the name of ‘Parnell’ is visible, (and indeed ‘Tho. Parnell’ has been deleted from the pastedown on the detached board). This is an indication that this book previously belonged to the Dublin poet Thomas Parnell, 1679–1718.

Condition:This seventeenth-century blind-tooled brown sheep binding is in very poor condition. Bothboards have completely detached and, more worrying still, the spine has rotted and is now a separate, partial piece of leather. This may give us an excellent view of the sewing structure but the lack of endbands to hold the work together at either end of the spine, in conjunction with the fragile nature of the work, means that unless something is done to protect this book soon it may well share the same fate as Item 3 – and loose some of the text. Indeed, not unlike Item 3, worm holes have partially damaged the text at the back of the book.


Item 4 sewing structure.

Item 5


Item 5: detached board.

Item 5
William King

The art of cookery, in imitation of Horace’s Art of poetry. With some letters to Dr. Lister, and others:.. By the author of the Journey to London…

London, 1712. 8o.

This work by the English writer William King, 1663-1712, was yet another attack on Martin Lister, d. 1712, whose Journey to Paris King had already lampooned. Although trained as a lawyer King hoped to make his mark as a writer, and for this work alone was paid 30 guineas by the publisher Bernard Lintott. Such success was not, however, constant, and as Thomas Hearne ruefully remarked, ‘he was so addicted to the Buffooning way, that he neglected his proper Business’. The work, which contains parallel texts of Latin and English texts, was typical of King’s genre.

Condition:Bound in an early 18th century Englishgold-tooled brown calf binding, both boards have separated from the spine and one of the endleaves is now completely detached. Again, this may be due not only to use but to the quality of the binding which is a good example of the use of false bands on the spine (5), whereas the textblock was evidently sewn on only three cords.

Item 6


Item 6: split spine joint.

Item 6
Aurelius Prudentius Clemens

Aurelius Prudentius Clemens Theodori Pulmanni Cranenburgij, et Victoris Giselini opera ex fide decem librorum manuscriptorum emendatus, et in eum, eiusdem Victoris Giselini commentarius. Antwerp, 1564. 8o.

This edition of the poetry of the Roman Christian poet Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, 348-c. 405, includes his most famous work, the Psychomachia, which investigates the spiritual battle between faith and idolatry. Though many of his poems had focussed on similar Christian themes the Psychomachia, with its strong emphasis on allegory, proved especially influential as a source for medieval allegorical literature. This text is typical of the products of the press of the renowned printer, Christopher Plantin, c. 1520 – 1589, during the period 1563-1567 when he was in partnership with four wealthy merchants: Cornelis and Karel van Bomberghen, Joannes Goropius Becanus and Jacopo Scotti. At this time the Plantin press produced many works of Latin classics which, like this book, were edited by Theodore Poelman, c. 1510-1581, and Victor Giselin, 1543-1591.

Condition: This elegant sixteenth-century French gold-tooled binding has been damaged along the spine joint of the upper board and as a result the gold-tooled spine covering has become loose. This allows a view of the herring-bone sewing structure but as a result the internal patch spine linings may easily be lost. The leather around the spine joint is under threat and needs urgent attention.


Item 7


Item 7: Detaching board on Estienne Dictionary.

Item 7
Robert Estienne

Dictionarium, seu Latinae linguae thesaurus, Non singulas modo dictiones continens, sed integras quoque Latinè & loquendi, & scribendi formulas ex optimis quibusque authoribus, ea quidem nunc accessione, ut nihil propemodum obseruatu dignum sit apud oratores, historicos, poetas, omnis denique generis scriptores, quod hic non promptum paratúmque habeat.

Paris, 1543. 2o.

The Estiennes, Henri I, his son Robert, and Robert’s son, Henri II, formed the most famous French printing house of the sixteenth century. Both the Venetian Aldine press (represented in this exhibition by Item 3), and the Parisian Estiennes were particularly interested in the publication of Greek texts and it was for this reason that Worth, himself a keen devotee of early typography, collected their work. This Latin dictionary, initially printed by Robert Estienne in 1531, proved to be one of the most popular of its day, running to several editions. Though based on an earlier dictionary by Ambrogio Calepino (Reggio, 1502), Estienne’s work was far more extensive, including more than 3,000 folios in three volumes and incorporating much useful citation of Latin sources. While the first edition of 1531 and the second edition of 1536 has incorporated some French material also, this 1543 edition was solely devoted to Latin, possibly because Estienne had already expanded on his earlier interest in bi-lingual dictionaries by printing the innovative Dictionarium Latino-Gallicum (1538) and his Dictionaire François-Latin (Paris 1539). Renouard argues that this 1543 edition remained the best Latin dictionary for over two hundred years and its inclusion in Worth’s collection, some 190 years after its publication, attests to its continuing relevance in the early eighteenth century.

Condition: This 1543 edition of Robert Estienne’s famous Latin dictionary is bound in a late 17th century two-tone mottled calf. The title is tooled directly onto a dark stained spine compartment and the boards have two blind panels, decorated with tools on the angles. The board edges are gold-rolled and the edges of the text are sprinkled red and blue, with endbands in pink and blue. The most obvious area of damage lies in the spine joint where the top board has almost, though not completely separated. This is no doubt due to the unwieldy size of the book and also the fact that dictionaries are always among the most utilised works in any library. This board is, quite literally, hanging by a single thread.


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