Italian Stationery Binding Workshop Recap

By Amanda Hegarty, Conservator for Special Collections, Weissman Preservation Center 
March 2022 

A woman showing a room full of people how to recreate a bookbinding technique.
The group of conservators, conservation technicians and conservation interns watching Katherine Beaty demonstrate the overband tackets.

From November to December 2021, staff from Harvard Library Collections Care and Weissman Preservation Center attended a 6-part workshop series led by Katherine Beaty, Book Conservator for Special Collections, and Kate Levy, Conservation Technician for Special Collections, exploring the history and structure of Italian renaissance-period stationery bindings. The Medici and Barberini Collections at Harvard Business School’s Baker Library contain an extensive range of these books. Stationery bindings of this period are robust, blank paper books bound in limp parchment and secured with straps and tackets. They open flat for ease of writing, making them perfect for journals or account books. Participants prepared ahead of time by reading Katherine’s article on the bindings and watching a recording of a presentation Katherine gave on the subject, which gave us an excellent background on the history and use of these bindings.  

Each session was organized around a particular aspect of this unique binding structure-—sewing, endbands, cover and overbands, lacings, tackets, and fastenings. The non-adhesive structure of these bindings meant that one could add in or remove the thick folded sections of paper quite easily. The books were relatively quick and inexpensive to make.  Economy in use of supplies was evidenced by the irregularly sized parchment covering pieces, and repurposed leather scrap material from other trades.  

A woman focusing on sewing an endband on a book.
Conservator Irina Gorstein sewing endbands on her model.

This workshop was a treat! Creating these historical models meant that we could understand how they were made and in future, carry out sympathetic conservation treatments.  We also gained a strong appreciation for the skill of the Italian binders in creating these beautiful and functional books.  

A group of people all holding the models they made in front of a table of the original books.
The group with their completed models in front of a table full of original Barberini volumes. 

See also: Conservation