The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Did you think that “reduce, reuse, recycle” was just a modern slogan? Check out this early modern book:

printed waste used in the binding

That’s an image of the front inside cover and front endleaf of a 1636 edition of Charles Fitz-Geffrey’s The blessed birth-day, which has been bound with a 1632 The rape of Lucrece. When binding the works together, the binder reused some paper he had laying around—in this case, an unidentified Latin text. Other waste material in bindings is a bit more interesting. Here’s some waste used in a 1577 edition of Martin Bucer’s Scripta Anglicana fere omnia:

front paste-down showing binders waste of a quarto imposition

After all the posts we’ve done about imposition, I know you know what this is: it’s an unfolded sheet showing a quarto imposition of “Aristotelis meteorologicorum.” Neither of those are particularly exciting texts. But sometimes important works have been found in the bindings of other books. The Folger’s copy of Skelton’s The Tunning of Elinor Running consists of part of two leaves that were once part of the binding of another book (the other leaves are now held by other libraries); that edition of the poem now survives only because it was preserved in waste.

surviving fragment of Elinor Rumming

Not all binding waste is printed. This 1550 Piers Plowman has Latin printed music as its endpapers but a vellum manuscript serving as the guard:

manuscript waste used as guard and endleaf

The waste found in books isn’t always found in the binding. Here’s a finding tab made out of a bit of vellum manuscript that’s marking a place in a 1503 Salisbury missal:

finding tab made of vellum manuscript

So what are all these old bits of paper and vellum doing in these books? Why would a binder stick some Aristotle in Bucer? Well, why not? If you’ve got extra sheets laying around from previous jobs, you’d put them to use. It’s better than paying for new paper, which would just increase your costs and decrease your profits. Early modern book makers weren’t thinking “reduce, reuse, recyle” in order to save the planet, the way in which the mantra primarily works for us today. They were being thrifty. And I’m glad they were: it gives us a glimpse of how early books were made, sometimes preserves texts that would otherwise have been lost, and even turns what might have been garbage into something useful and beautiful!

We at the Folger have a holiday tradition of turning waste into beauty. For the second year, our Green Committee has sponsored the Folger Recycled Art and Craft Annual Show, in which Folgerites take the odds and ends of the Library and transform them into something else. Scraps of paper and leather, film reels, bits of discarded computer equipment are given new life, some beauty and some whimsy through the creativity of some avid reusers. So, as a farewell to 2011 and to tide you over until our return in 2012, please accept this lovely bouquet of calendars and catalogs made by Shakespeare Quarterly‘s Associate Production Editor Christina Certo and check out the other FRACAS contributions. Happy holidays, and see you back here on January 9th!

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