Jane Eagan and Matthew Shaw
Librarians and conservators see a lot of books. As such, they are often only passing acquaintances at best with many of them, and large numbers in their collection or care are positively strangers. It’s also unusual to know much at all about what researchers do with the books that they are consulting. This summer, the UNIQ+ research internship project offered us, as a librarian and a conservator, the chance to look more closely at one volume than is perhaps usually the case.
Myles Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes and Spiritual Songes (Sel.d.81(8)) has many mysteries, such as the date of publication and the reasons for the unique survival of the copy held by The Queen’s College, Oxford. The UNIQ+ internships would touch on these questions, but also frame them by viewing the pamphlet in terms of the Sammelband in which it is now to be found. Why were these pamphlets collected? Do they share common features in terms of their content, printing, and evidence of ownership or use? What does the stitching of the pamphlets reveal about when and how they were bound together?
For the project, the College arranged for the entire volume to be digitised (and it is now available on Digital Bodleian). As is usual before photography, the volume was inspected for any conservation issues. It also presented an opportunity for a more detailed account of the physical status of the volume to be prepared. We can share this description here:
This volume contains nine printed pamphlets dating to the C16. Attached to the right board is a letter in its envelope from Lt Col. J.S. Isaac to ‘Allen’ dated 12/11/1929 with details as to date of publication, etc. of Goostly Psalmes, Booke of Pylgrymage of Man.
It is in a nineteenth-century in-board binding, sewn in an abbreviated sewing pattern (two on) on four single cord supports all laced into the boards, with full leather covering (tight back) and four pairs of false raised bands on the spine. The marbled endleaves are the non pareil pattern with a made flyleaf and cloth inner joint. The boards are tooled in blind (thin-thick roll) to form a compartment on the sides, with a single roll blind tooling around the false supports and on the leather covering turn ins. The boards are relatively heavy millboard, and there is little board leverage, so they boards open easily but with a sharp hinging point. This construction has led to breakdown of the board attachment and one or both boards has become detached in the past and the volume was rebacked in leather (?C20). The inner cloth joint may date to the time of the reback repair. The reback leather is showing signs of wear at both outer joints but is still functioning and the boards are attached. The inner cloth joint has minor splits along the left board. The original spine covering is damaged where the volume has been frequently opened to read item 3 (Goostly Psalmes); there is also loss of the grain layer in that area.
The textblock is stained throughout the entire volume by water or other liquid; it has obviously been affected by a flood occurring above the area where it was shelved and in its current binding. The leather binding is also water stained, particularly noticeable on the left board. In general the text-block is in fair condition in keeping with age and use and with the usual damage and wear to first/last leaves, as well as some ingrained dirt or signs of individual pamphlets having been stored in different conditions before binding together in the present volume.
Several of the pamphlets show evidence of primary stitching to keep the leaves together; this was common for short publications with a small number of printed sheets. To stitch the pamphlet together, stitching holes were made with a sharp point, then thread (on needle) was passed directly through the inner margin from one side to the other then anchored by knotting on the surface of the pamphlet, often at a stitching hole. It has been shown that the percentage of the spine covered by the stitching thread declined over time until in later years a very small percentage of the pamphlet was covered by stitching, obviously saving more time and making this form of binding even more economical. The lack of an in-board binding is not an indicator of value placed on the item, stitching was a simple, cost-effective and common technique for short works produced in various formats, but particularly quarto. Stitching was not necessarily viewed as a temporary structure destined to be replaced by in-boards binding, and pamphlets often remained in stitched format for many years. It is also true that stitched pamphlets were frequently gathered together, the stitching removed, and the group of publications bound into a composite volume or Sammelband. Pamphlets 2 to 4 of Sel.d.81 show evidence of stitching at 4 or 5 points and in differing patters, signs of their format and use before being collected and bound together. Further details of some of the pamphlets in the volume are as follows:
Item 1 Cranmer, A Defence of the True…, printed 1550,  p., 4°. Heavily trimmed, edges fragile, title page worn with discolouration and softening, edges damaged, etc., no sign of stitching when in original pamphlet form.
Item 2 The Booke of the Pilgrimage of Man, printed 1520?,  p., 4°. Edge trimmed affecting marginal notes. First page has ingrained dirt, various stains and spots, and the last page is more discoloured. Five stitching holes found in inner margin. Sections 1-3 show the same pattern of stitching holes, however there is a change at section 4 (signature di-iii) with the third hole in a slightly lower position than previously.
Item 3 The Pleasaunt Playne…Pathweaye, printed 1552?,  p., 4°. First leaf heavily trimmed, with ingrained dirt, ink spots and smears. Old repair to title page and last leaf. Four stab stitching holes seen in the inner margin.
Item 4 Goostly Psalmes, printed 1535?,  p., 4°. First leaf has ingrained dirt, softened paper, edges damaged with small losses, inscriptions in ink. No sign of sections being stored separately for long periods, and no accretion of dirt/stains. Evidence of stitching at 5 points, with a consistent pattern of stitching holes throughout the pamphlet.
Item 6 The Canticles…, printed 1549,  p., 4°. This pamphlet was stored separately before binding as evidenced by the first leaf (A1r) with ink stains, annotations, etc.
The Taylorian editions of some of these pamphlets, such as The Pleasaunt Playne… Pathweaye, will, we hope, lead to a better understanding of the nature of the Sammelband. And, on 5 November, it was a pleasure to attend Evensong at The Queen’s College, which remembered Coverdale and included one of his settings of the Psalmes – another reminder that that texts have physical, material, and even spiritual lives.
Jane Eagan is the Head of Conservation of the Oxford Conservation Consortium, which provides collection care to 16 colleges of the University of Oxford, including Queen’s College.
Matthew Shaw is the Librarian of The Queen’s College, Oxford.