Folger Tooltips: Researching Bindings

Man in the moon stamp STC 20938

Man in the moon stamp, STC 20938

Last month Folger Librarian Stephen Enniss announced our public launch of the Folger Bindings Image Collection.

Today we introduce Collation readers to the database and describe in a bit more detail some of the available search strategies for those interested in investigating early modern European binding structure and decoration.

About the Bindings Image Collection

This new database had its earliest incarnation at the Folger nearly twenty years ago in the form of a public exhibition and a now-out-of-print catalog, Fine and Historic Bookbindings from the Folger Shakespeare Library, by Frederick Bearman, Nati Krivatsy, and Frank Mowery.1 Then-director Werner Gundersheimer put it this way in his foreword to that 1992 catalog: 

Because the Folger is essentially a research library for scholars, the full significance of its holdings in fine and important bindings has not been generally recognized. Dr. Nati H. Krivatsy, Chief Reference Librarian, inherited from Dorothy Mason, her predecessor, a file on bindings in the collection which she has greatly expanded over the years. When J. Franklin Mowery joined the staff as Chief Conservator, he brought with him an enthusiasm for fine bindings and began his own files on those in the Folger collection. Mr. Mowery and Dr. Krivatsy recommended that an effort be made to identify the most important bindings within the Library’s collection of 115,000 rare books,2 to catalog them, and to keep comprehensive records of them which would be an ongoing documentary resource. It was a short step from this recommendation to a decision that the public deserved an opportunity to see and enjoy the best and most unusual example of bindings from this collection, and that the scholarly world ought to have an opportunity to become acquainted with an unsuspected strength of the Folger.3

And a logical next step is our current work: a growing database providing public access to photos and descriptions from previous files, but enhanced also with additional bindings photography and new descriptions by Mr. Mowery, with assistance from Rare Bindings Intern Rachel Bartgis and Metadata Specialist Emily Wahl.

Searching the Bindings Image Collection

Of course, diving right in is always an option. But read on for some details that may help as you begin to explore the database.

Fields: Reviewing our list of Fields in the Folger Bindings  Image Collection is a useful first step. Note in particular that each photo is accompanied by:

  • an “Image Caption” providing a brief description of the image, including the Call number;
  • “General Description” of the binding, along with its “Country / Style” and “Period” (when these can be ascertained);
  • brief bibliographical details about the items bound in (up to the first three), including a “Hamnet URL,” providing a hyperlink to the full online bibliographic description (when available); and
  • additional fields containing brief or narrative descriptions of provenance; of decorative elements, of technical details about the binding; bibliographical references to selected secondary literature; and controlled vocabulary headings in a field called “Binding Terms (RBMS).”

Vocabulary: To aid further in searching, a general list of Vocabulary in the Bindings Image Collection is available, divided into two categories: “Structural terms,” and Decorative elements and covering terms.” Also worth reviewing are the controlled vocabulary terms in Binding Terms: A Thesaurus for Use in Rare Book and Special Collections Cataloging, terms that are being updated throughout the database now.

Sorting: Since “Call number” is the default sort for search results, images of the same binding will “cluster” together on a screen of thumbnails in your search results; within those “clusters” results will be sorted alphabetically by “Image Caption.”  Post-search re-sorting is also available, by clicking a double-headed arrow icon that sits towards the upper right of a thumbnail screen. The sorting icon looks like this:

Post-search sorting in Folger Digital Image Collections

Post-search sorting

Basic vs. advanced searching: As in the Folger Digital Image Collection, a keyword search may be your best place to start searching: perhaps with a basic keyword search selected from the Vocabulary list? As an example, let’s try “Blind tooled” from the Vocabulary list and consider the various methods—in order by increasing search precision—for tracking down images of bindings exhibiting stamps, rolls, and/or tooling in blind (that is, without the sort of lovely gilding you see in the ca. 1640 Man in the moon stamp illustrating this blog post).

  • A Basic keyword search: As with many keyword-searchable databases, a multi-word basic search in either of our Image Collections will not default to a phrase search. Instead, the search engine puts a boolean “and” in between words entered side-by-side. In other words, the following search result set of 1,747 images almost certainly includes false hits, since asking for records with both the work “blind” and the word “tooled,”  appearing anywhere at all:
Folger Bindings Image Collection Search for blind and tooling

Basic search for blind and tooling

  • A Basic keyword phrase search: To retrieve only those items with the full phrase, you could drop quotes around it. But again these search results are likely to contain at least a few pictures that don’t depict blind tooling. That seems counter-intuitive, but here’s the deal: since language appearing in some fields (e.g., “Decorative description”) will apply to the binding but not necessarily to each and every photo of that binding, you may want greater precision than this search result set of 1,631 images:
Folger Bindings Image Collection basic search for "blind tooled"

Basic search for “blind tooled”

  • An Advanced keyword search: Wondering about the array of “all,” “any” and “exact wording” choices on the Advanced screen? The “Hint” mouseovers are in fact helpful, as is the help text available by clicking the “?” in the upper right corner. I’ll let you explore those on your own, but for now I want to jump to my favorite advanced search:
    • First I’ll confirm that I’m only searching the Bindings Collection, by checking off that box (and only that box) towards the bottom of my Advanced Search screen:
    Folger Bindings Image Collection Advanced search limit

    Limit an Advanced search to the Bindings Collection

    • Next I’m going to jump down to the third set of search choices, to “find this exact wording” in a field of my choosing. After selecting the controlled vocabulary field “Binding Terms (RBMS),” I’ll just start typing. Note that in this case I did not need to review the RBMS thesaurus ahead of time. I don’t actually *need* to know that this field is populated this way; the search engine helpfully auto-completes to show me the list of available values. So now I can narrow my search to a specific Period, or to a specific Country / Style (when known) and Period:
    Folger Bindings Image Collection Advanced Search for Exact Wording

    Advanced Search for exact wording

    • Do you want a precise search that is also a bit broader? Perhaps all Austrian and German 15th century bindings? Select an “Or” from the drop down to the left, and make use of that “+” sign to the right of the search box to be able to add more choices to this search:
Folger Bindings Image Collection Advanced Search for Multiple Exact Wordings

Advanced search for multiple exact wordings

Much of the advice given users of the Folger Digital Image Collection applies here as well; for that reason you might also review Quick Search Tips, Selected Folger Luna How-Tos, and Tutorials pages written for users of the main Folger image database.

Other Bindings Resources, including You, Dear Readers!

A Bibliography and Webliography round out our new tools in the area of bindings research.

We always welcome reports of errors and any other submissions that might help improve our database entries or our links and bibliographical “paradata.”

Questions about searching, as well as corrections or questions about content, therefore will be cheerfully responded to via insighthelp [at] folger [dot] edu, bindingshelp [at] folger [dot] edu, or fmowery [at] folger [dot] edu.

  1. Fine and Historic Bookbindings from the Folger Shakespeare Library, by Frederick A. Bearman, Nati H. Krivatsy, J. Franklin Mowery; with an introduction by Anthony Hobson; photographs by Julie Ainsworth. Washington DC, 1992. []
  2. Current figures are much higher: “In round numbers, the Folger houses more than 256,000 books; 60,000 manuscripts; 250,000 playbills; 200 oil paintings; some 50,000 drawings, watercolors, prints, and photographs; and a wealth of other materials, including musical instruments, costumes, and films.” []
  3. Werner Gundersheimer, “Foreword,” Fine and Historic Bookbindings, p. 5. []

Author: Jim Kuhn

JIM KUHN was Head of Collection Information Services at the Folger Library until September 2013. In that role, he was responsible for planning and managing technical services operations (Acquisitions, Cataloging, and Photography and Digital Imaging) and acting as primary liaison with the Library's ILS vendor (Ex Libris: Voyager), digital image database vendor (Luna Insight), and digital preservation cooperative (MetaArchive). In addition to an MLS, Jim has a Master of Arts in Philosophy. He is now the Joseph N. Lambert and Harold B. Schleifer Director of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservations at University of Rochester's Library.

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