Ligatus news

Progress report

At the end of this week, Marco Di Bella, who has been working on the project since the end of March returns to Palermo with his wife Ilya and their tiny son Lorenzo. Marco has been working on rehousing the slides after they have been scanned and inputting data into the database. We hope to open it online at the end of the summer and, with the help of current crowdfunding to continue the creation of the metadata with new project assistants until it is finished.

ONE OF A KIND - celebrating the life and work of Christopher Clarkson

On Monday 26th June over 130 friends and family of Christopher Clarkson came together in London to celebrate his life, share stories and raise a glass in his memory. Many people travelled from afar to pay tribute to their tutor, friend, colleague and relative. In preparation for the event we received wonderful photographs from all over the world which were displayed on the day and contributed greatly to the celebration. Four documentary films shown during the event gave a glimpse into Chris' preeminent book conservation skills and his involvement in the aftermath of the Florence flooding in 1967. Guests could also see Chris' innovative models of limp vellum bindings, kindly brought by his family.

To ensure that Chris Clarkson's legacy lives on, we continue to work on his 30,000 slide archive, preparing it for online publication to make it available to everyone

Reading, Writing, and Selling Scholarship - The Elzeviers and their Contemporaries Conference

Friday 2 June 2017, Room 349, Senate House

2017 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Louis Elzevier, bookseller and founder of the publishing house which dominated Dutch printing in the seventeenth century. Elzevier books spread across the known world, through their own vast international trade network and via the many foreign students who read them while studying at Dutch universities. They thus helped shape how the topics represented were understood, learned, taught, read, collected and pirated. The renowned dynasty lives on today through the long collectability of its output and through its namesake, the Elsevier publishing house. This conference explores material evidence of the production and consumption of academic books in the early modern period, based around publications by the Elzeviers and their contemporaries.

For more information on the upcoming conference please visit

From research to practice

I am a chemist by profession and a bookbinder by choice. Since getting my bachelor's degree, I have devoted myself to the study of bookbinding and its history, as well as the constructive techniques and the materials used for the craft. This interest took me to Volos, Greece in 2007, where I took the course Identifying bookbinding structure for conservation and cataloguing organized by Ligatus Research Centre. What caught my attention was, as it said at the website, that "most of the course was directed to the identification of distinctions within the large groups of plain commercial bindings and the possibilities of identifying the work of different countries, cities, even workshops without references to finishing tools."(

As the course advanced, I realized we knew little about Mexican binding and the bookbinding craft in Mexico. Just like in other countries, the few existing studies are about the aesthetic aspect of bindings, the design patterns and decoration techniques.

I also learned that by interpreting the characteristics of binding, it is possible to identify, among other things, the trading routes of the book from the moment of its printing until the place where it is kept. Considering this, and that the bookbinding craft arrived in Mexico with the Spaniards conquerors in the sixteenth century, I thought that through the analysis of the first Mexican printings bindings of that time, the Spanish influence in the patterns of work of Mexican bindings could be identified.

This hypothesis was the base and guide for my doctoral dissertation. The objective was to study the book as an artefact by applying the methodology of archaeology, with the aim of analyzing the materials and techniques used in the manufacture of Mexican bindings on the sixteenth-century printed books in Mexico, in order to determine if the characteristics identified could be considered typical patterns of Mexican work of this period.

In order to define the sample of this study, I analysed three hundred books of which only forty-seven kept the original binding or elements of it. The books bound in limp, laced-case bindings were taken as the main sample, as they formed a clear majority within the total, and allowed a greater possibility of identifying patterns of work.

The main sample was compared with the European sample. Although at the beginning of the research only Spanish editions were to be included in the comparative sample, at the time of the selection of books, the collection of sixteenth-century European printed books in the National Library of Mexico was in process of being catalogued. As a consequence, it was only possible to include twenty-nine books that had been printed in Spain in the comparative sample. To complete the forty-seven European books necessary to make the size equal of both set of sample, it was decided to include books from other European countries. In order to work with a comparative sample as similar as possible to those books in the main sample, the criteria for the selection of the books in the comparative sample were the same as those considered for the books in the main sample.

Two main difficulties were quickly identified in trying to draw conclusions from the analysis of the books in the main sample. The first was to determine when the covers of the books were made. It must be understood that limp-laced parchment covers were in common use in Mexico until the end of the eighteenth century and this practice was therefore in use over a long period. The second one was the lack of any published evidence about traditional bookbinding practices in Spain in the sixteenth century that could help either to identify their influence on Mexican practices or to understand characteristics of Mexican bindings.

With regards to the comparative sample, it is likely to be that some of the books in it arrived from Europe already bound, while others, most probably as a result of trade practices, may have arrived as sewn textblocks without covers. The features of the bindings in the comparative sample are often shared with those shown in the Mexican one, something that makes it difficult to determine whether these books were covered in Mexico or Europe. Firm conclusions could, therefore, not always be drawn from comparisons between the books in the main and the comparative samples.

Although the relative small size of the main sample made it impossible to draw firm conclusions about the frequency of the use of certain materials or techniques that could be defined as typical Mexican practice of the sixteenth century, it was large enough to establish relationships between the different features of the bindings, and compare them with the information reported in published sources about the cultural, social, and economic situation, as well as the book trade and book market in Mexico in that period.

Among the main conclusions of this research it can be mentioned that Mexican bindings from the sixteenth century show a great variety of techniques and material in its construction, which in turn reflect the search for local production methods that implied the adaptation of traditional European techniques to the materials and labour available in Mexico. In addition, it confirms that there were many binders working in Mexico and there was enough work for all of them. The techniques used to bind the Mexican books in the main sample show, as expected, the influence of Spanish bookbinding practices, but bookbinding in Mexico was influenced also by a wider area that includes Italy, France, Germany, Sicily, and the Low Countries .

Thanks to this study, it was possible to identify some recurring characteristics that could be considered as Mexican patterns of work. For example, to sew the bookblock from left to right, the use of animal-based adhesive on the spine of the bookblock, linings that fill approximately the entire of the high of the panel and to work the endbands with back beads, with tiedowns worked below the kettle stitches, through the lining and secure the first and last tiedowns of the endbands with a knot at the bottom of the tiedowns, at the exit hole of the spine, among others.

However, in order to determine precisely the features of Mexican bookbinding practice in this period, it was necessary to continue with the analysis of a larger number of books, starting with those which arrived from Europe and were bound in Mexico.

After I got the degree in 2013, I was hired as a full time researcher at the Institute of Bibliographic Research at the National University of Mexico [Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliogáficas, Univsersidad Nacional Autónoma de México], to study the Collections keep at the National Library. My main line of research is the history of Mexican bookbinding craft, and following my own recommendation, my first research project at the Institute was Limp, laced-case binding in parchment on sixteenth-century European printed books hold at the National Library of Mexico, in order to confirm if the identified characteristics in the bindings of Mexican printed books form the sixteenth century could be considered as typical Mexican patterns.

For the selection of the bindings to be consider in the sample for this study, I used Yhmoff Cabrera’s work from 1996, [Catalogue of European printed books of the sixteenth century held at the National Library of Mexico], because the author recorded, in a very simple way, the type of binding of the works at the time of making the catalogue. The sample was formed by two hundred and twenty-two books in limp, laced-case binding of parchment, following the same selection criteria used for the Mexican printings studied in the dissertation.

For the interpretation of the results from this research, I faced the same difficulty I had in my dissertation: the characteristics of the analyzed European bindings were pretty similar to those identified in the Mexican printings from the sixteenth century studied in the dissertation, specially the characteristics of the covers. This fact made it difficult to determine if the covers were made in Europe or Mexico.

However, the study allowed to confirm that some books arrived already bound, as the features of their bindings are particular of the country where they were printed. Other books arrived as sewn textblocks and were covered in Mexico. This last view can be supported by the fact that the book trade during the sixteenth century was well established across Europe and the Spaniards expanded it to the American Continent. In order to avoid the payment of the high taxes levies on books imported in Mexico, based on the weight and size of the shipment, booksellers may have preferred to ship books as sewn bookblocks without covers, to reduce the weight of the book, and thus an increased cost of shipping, as well as avoiding the cost of making the cover.

Following these same ideas, among the European books studied in the dissertation and the ones studied in this last research, I found a total of twenty-one books, specially Spanish and French with fibres of tanned leather that can be seen adhered to the spine of the textblock, which are clear evidence of an earlier leather cover, it is therefore, possible that the textblocks, with or without their earlier leather cover, arrived from Europe already sewn and the present replacement limp, laced-case covers were made in Mexico. Given the fact that anyone who travelled or sent goods to Mexico, even if not for commercial purposes, had to pay the transportation fees, the characteristics of these books raise the possibility that it was chosen to remove the heavy covers of the bindings, transport them without cover and, once in Mexico, asked to the bookbinder to put a new cover, but this time a less expensive one made of parchment.

Another fact that confirms the books arrived in Mexico as sewn textblocks is that books from Germany were identified sewn on cord sewing-supports and from France sewn on alum-tawed sewing-supports, both characteristics are distinctive of each country. Although the parchment covers share features with the Mexican ones, and sometimes makes it difficult to determine the origin of the cover, as I mentioned before, I realized that the parchment used to make the cover of the European binding is thinner and softer than that used in Mexican covers. This difference made by feeling opened a new research path that could be useful to distinguish between European and Mexican parchment.

The consistency in the results of both investigations proves that for Mexican binding the sixteenth century was the time of searching and adaptation of the European techniques and must probably the characteristics identified as possible Mexican patterns of work might be clearer and better defined in the limp, laced-case bindings of parchment on seventeenth-century Mexican printed books. This is my following research project.

Another shared characteristic I identified in the European books of both studies were the techniques used to repair the structure elements of bookbinding, some of them were also identified in Mexican printings during the sixteenth century. Considering that the books studied arrived in Mexico in that century, when shipment was slow and bureaucracy process was complicated and expensive, it is not hard to think that it was cheaper and convenient to repair a damaged book than replace it with a new one. Based on this hypothesis, Ma. Fernanda Martínez, a student from the National School of Conservation in Mexico [Escuela Nacional de Conservación, Restuarción y Museografía] wrote the dissertation Early Repairs in Parchment bindings from the Sixteenth Century: Registration, Analysis, and Interpretation [Las reparaciones antiguas en las encuadernaciones en pergamino flojo del siglo XVI: registro, análisis e interpretación], to obtain her bachelor’s degree in conservation. The objective of this work was to make an archaeological study of early repairs of these bindings, by recording the techniques and materials used to relate them with their historical, social, and economical context, in order to appreciate and preserve them as historical evidence for the book’s use, commerce, and market of a society in a specific moment.

In addition, to show the value of these repairs as precedents of book conservation treatments, it was concluded that some repairs are certainly Mexican, such as working the tiedowns of the endbands under the sewing supports in order to provide slips with which to attach the cover. While others were identified only in European printings, like adding an endband-core slips of alum-tawed skin at each end stabbed through the spine toward the head- and tail-edges respectively, and laced through the cover and turn-ins. In these cases, the characteristics of the covers in parchment are very similar to Mexican covers, which make it complicated to determine if the repair is European or Mexican.

It is necessary to continue working on this subject, both in Mexico and Europe, to know the repair techniques used in the different countries with the purpose of having more information to trace the trading routes of the printings that arrived in Mexico during the Colonial period.

These research works have inspired other students of conservation to write their bachelor’s dissertations about topics related to the archaeological study of Mexican bindings or about bindings of different origins kept in Mexican libraries. Such is the case of the bachelor’s dissertation Conservation Proposal for the Choral Book of 1715 Copied by Miguel de Aguilar in the Eighteenth Century [Propuesta de conservación para el libro de coro de 1715 copiado por Miguel de Aguilar en el siglo XVIII]. In the colophon of this choral book, the credit as scribe of the book is given to Miguel de Aguilar. With this information, four choral books copied by Miguel de Aguilar were located to define a comparative sample. Once the selection of the books was made, the characteristics of the structural elements of two bindings were registered and interpreted to support the proposal and treatment for its conservation. It was not possible to access the other two books located because their depository was on maintenance.

According to the information analysis, it was determined that the book from 1715 studied in this work is the only survivor with the first binding, without modifications or interventions, so for now, it can be considered a primary source of information to study the binding of Mexican choral books from the eighteenth century. Based on this, the proposal for its conservation was limited to making a container for its conservation in order to avoid altering the historical evidence of the copy, and it has been preserved in this way until today. This dissertation received an honourable mention in the awards given by the National Institute of Anthropology and History [Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia], in Mexico, to the best bachelor’s dissertations.

Another thesis, based in the history of Mexican bookbinding, but this time of a master degree in information studies, is Catalogue of Bookbinder’s Labels from the Nineteenth Century in Mexican Libraries [Catálogo de etiquetas de encuadernador del siglo XIX en bibliotecas mexicanas]. The general objective of this work was to start a catalogue of labels used by bookbinders of the nineteenth century that included the formal description of the label, as well as the bindings where they were found. This would allow determining the active binders and workshops and try to identify the structural and decorative elements that could be recognized as patterns of Mexican work of that century. The contribution of this work to the history of Mexican bookbinding is the record of forty-four establishments, workshops, and binders that were active in Mexico during the nineteenth century, and the knowledge of some characteristics of their binding work.

Each of these names represents a line of research to follow with the purpose of knowing more about these binders and their work. In this work, the value of binder's labels as document is shown, as well as the social, economical, technical, and aesthetic information they provide, which will help the conservation, not only of the labels itself, but also of the bindings where they are found.

The glossary developed by Ligatus Research Centre was used to register and describe the bindings in these works, according with its hierarchical structure which follows the process of the construction of the book starting by the textblock. For the research in Spanish it has been necessary to translate the Litagus Glossary to Spanish. Although at the beginning we translated the terms according to the needs of each case, we are now a work group based in the Institute of Bibliographical Studies collaborating with Ligatus for the translation of the Glossary to Spanish. This group includes two book conservators, two binders, two professional translators, and a specialist in discourse analysis who helps us with the Spanish syntax. To find the best term to refer to certain structural element or its characteristic, we go to a philologist who also collaborates in developing terms when there is non in Spanish.

In December last year, we started to work with a group in Spain, based in the Complutense University of Madrid [Universidad Complutense de Madrid], with the coordination of Dr. Antonio Carpallo. The translated terms are sent to Spain in the delivery form requested by Dr. Velios, so it can be included in the corresponding column the most used term by the Spanish. The Spanish group is also the advisor panel, to whom we go to in case we need help to choose a term. The delivery form returns to Mexico for its last revision and then is sent to Dr. Velios for its inclusion in the database of the Ligatus Glossary. We planed the delivery of the next twenty terms for April this year.

The inclusion to the Ligatus Glossary of the most used terms in each Spanish-speaking country to refer to the structural elements of bookbinding is a medium term project. In addition to Spain, we are now doing some exercises with a group in Argentina, coordinated by Marian Silveti, conservator at the National University of General San Martin [Universidad Nacional de San Martín]. With this Argentinean group of specialists, we are working on the project Material Study of Bookbinding in the Seventeenth Century According to the Dirk de Bary Treaty [Estudio de la materialidad de la encuadernación del siglo diecisiete, con base en el tratado de Dirk Bary], in which the terms that will be in the Glossary are being to be used.

In addition to the academic studies mentioned above, another field of study has been the dissemination, for which I have given talks and courses in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. I have been the curator of exhibitions in different libraries and museums in Mexico using the books of their own collections. As these exhibitions are address to a general audience, I choose books with ordinary bindings, everyday ones, of different times in different types of binding. I prefer those which are damaged but stable to show the elements that are normally hidden by the endleaves and the covers. In this way, it can be seen the complexity of their structures, the changes it has gone through, and how bookbinding changed through time, depending on the demand of bound books. It can be also evident the value of the bindings as an integral part of the work they protect. I usually guide some visits to the exhibitions during the time they are open. This has been an interesting experience because our work now is known in other contexts. The visitors know and enjoy their documentary heritage and its conservation is encouraged.

I could say, these have been years of intense and gratifying work. Internationally, I am glad to be collaborating with the translation to Spanish of the Ligatus Glossary, which also gave me the opportunity of working with Spanish and Argentinean colleagues. To understand each other better and standardize the work criteria, I have given courses in Spain and Argentina about registration and description of bookbindings, based on the construction hierarchical order presented on the Ligatus Glossary and applying the methodology I used for the books studied in my thesis.

Locally, my doctoral dissertation not only worked to obtain the degree and become the fifth graduate from the PhD of the Ligatus Research Centre, but has also encouraged and inspired young students of conservation and information studies bachelor and master degrees. In addition, it has been taken as a base for other studies used for the assessment and decision making for the conservation and preservation of Mexican bookbindings.

In addition to the research projects I mentioned, and the translation of the Glossary, what follows is to keep on working on the dissemination, organizing exhibitions and curses, and to keep on working with young students, from Mexico and other Latin-American countries, in order to encourage them to do research work as their dissertations, in the subject of bookbinding history in their own countries, and try to increase the number of graduates from the Ligatus Research Centre.
Thank you very much.

ONE OF A KIND - a celebration of Christopher Clarkson's life and work

A gathering of family, friends, colleagues and all who have learnt from him to celebrate the life and work of Christopher Clarkson.

Please book here:

Lunch and refreshments will be available from 12.00 noon. In the afternoon, for those who would like to see them, there will be a showing in an adjoining room of two films which show Chris at work.
The event will draw to a close at around 16.45.

If you have photographs of Chris at point in his life that you would like to be shown at the event, please send us copies and we will try to include them.

The Ligatus team.

On the parchment trail: following music manuscript fragments from Malta

by Theresa Zammit Lupi PhD ACR
(Conservation Consultant for the Notarial Archives Resource Council, Valletta, Malta)

following her presentation at the Ligatus conference: Codex to Code

In this talk I have taken up the theme of fragments, their value, and how one might follow them.

During the talk an introduction on the subject of my PhD was given. My research had involved a codicological study on the L’Isle Adam Manuscript Collection - a set of ten illuminated French choir books dated 1533. Here I also discussed a database that I specifically designed to gather information and carry out a condition assessment on the manuscripts. The talk primarily was about my research on music manuscript recycled fragments and my current research on similar French choir books outside Malta.

Waste material from similar liturgical manuscripts as the L’Isle Adam choir books that were turned into covers for bindings were discussed. As part of my PhD I looked at some of the archival bindings in the Notarial Archives and the Museum of Fine Arts, both in Valletta, Malta. With the changes in the liturgy of the mass that took place after the Council of Trent (1545-1563), entire leaves were cut out of large choir books to accommodate these changes. This was common practice throughout the Catholic world. In the case of the L’Isle Adam manuscripts this meant that new text and music were introduced turning the older leaves into waste material that could either be discarded completely or sold and recycled into covers for bindings.

In other instances covers are now in their third life as flat parchment leaves with turn-ins but no textblock. In some cases, it is evident that fragments came from the same scriptorium as the L’Isle Adam choir books. The stylistic comparisons are extremely close on a number of counts: same palette, same script, same quality skins, same rubrics and ruling patterns.

In these last four years I have been working at the Notarial Archives as a consultant conservator on privately sponsored projects. The Notarial Archives has over 2km of manuscript material spanning over six centuries. It includes thousands of contractual agreements many of which are typically bound in parchment. The reason for having such thick volumes in the collection is because a notary would have to bind all his yearly deeds into one volume. Thick volumes indicate he was a busy notary. So large skins from choir books were perfect to be recycled into covers. At the Notarial Archives we have so far identified about 150 recycled manuscript bindings many of which once formed part of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. Music manuscripts were also used as spine linings, stiffeners or quire supports.

In 2015 while transferring some manuscripts from inside a cupboard to safer shelving conditions, I came across a volume with a music manuscript fragment. Upon close inspection it was clear that the cover was once part of an antiphonal. The single folio that now covers the front of a collection of notarial deeds includes part of the readings and chants for the office of matins celebrating the feast of Pentecost. The fragment is folded on three sides: at the head, tail and fore-edge and has been sewn on its fore-edge using a thin cord to hold the springy parchment turn-ins from coming undone. The most exciting part of this story has been finding the coat of arms of Grand Master L’Isle Adam hidden inside the bottom turn-in of this cover. Stylistically this fragment points towards the same style as the L’Isle Adam graduals, that is, to the scriptorium of the followers of the French illuminator Jean Pichore.

The discovery of this antiphonal fragment sheds light on the fact that many more manuscripts were produced than was generally believed. In trying to develop a picture of what truly existed, one is also bound to consider the remnants of what was destroyed completely. There is scope for the study of music history and the history of music literacy through searching for, describing and understanding fragments in such collections. Or from a book historian’s viewpoint, there is scope for the study of bookbindings in helping to interpret the history of choral music.

Another research project I am involved in is also connected to the study on the L’Isle Adam manuscripts. This is a study on its illuminations. The Parisian illuminator Jean Pichore whose collaborators we now know were involved in decorating the L’Isle Adam manuscripts, was also responsible for decorating a set of four choir books in 1520. These are now dispersed in four separate collections: one in Europe at the Staatsbibliotek in Berlin, and three in the United States at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the Denison Library in California and at The Houghton Library at Harvard.

I have recently been granted a research fellowship through Harvard University where I have been carrying out research on the Jean Pichore choir book at the Houghton Library. A number of art historical and codicological similarities emerge when comparing these four manuscripts to the Maltese set. The results will be published in the near future.

Since finishing my PhD 8 years ago, my career has followed a trail to identify, analyse and treat manuscript fragments, music or otherwise. In a way my PhD was a point of departure for the study of music manuscripts and their fragments that I was later to embark on during different work experiences.

I have worked on other things in between but the doctoral work has produced a great deal of foundation work that I keep returning to as my point of reference. Here I am not only referring to the subject of illuminated manuscripts and their fragments, but also to the way I have learnt different competences to be able to look at books and manuscripts in general. These include for example, digital techniques to compile data such as the creation of a database; they include pictorial analysis in the form of iconography to be able to identify styles and methods of work. They also include having intellectual resourcefulness to be able to find and use available resources to carry out projects successfully.

My doctoral research has also refined my sensibilities on how to look and interpret fragments which I have also continued to develop through my teaching experiences. I have had the opportunity in the last years to deliver courses about parchment and fragments at different universities working on music and non-music fragments from a number of precious library collections.

Obituary - Christopher Clarkson

Christopher Clarkson, who died just before midnight on Thursday 30 March at the age of 78, was the pre-eminent conservator of medieval manuscripts and early printed books and a much-respected historian of book-binding and in particular of the structural history of bookbinding, specializing in the period from the birth of the codex to the early Renaissance. From an early training in design and the graphic arts and without a university education, he made himself, by virtue of his manual skills and a single-minded dedication to his craft, the pre-eminent conservator of early books, equipped with a deep knowledge of the materials used to make them and the techniques used in their construction.

He was born in on 19 November, 1938 in Blackheath, the son of Victor and Kathleen Ruth (née Hopgood). He was not a strong child, having been born with a hole in his heart, and only went to school when he was seven. It was at school that one of his teachers suggested that he should go to art classes at the Whitechapel Art Gallery on his Saturday mornings, which led, at the age of thirteen, to his being sent to the Junior Art School at the Camberwell College of Arts and Crafts. There the curriculum was dominated by painting and painting techniques, drawing and all the graphic reproductive methods, with one day a week only given to other subjects. When he was only fifteen, he moved on to the Senior Art School and developed an abiding interest in medieval architecture, heraldry and brass rubbing, touring around southern England on his bicycle, making drawings and taking photographs. At seventeen he gained his National Diploma in Design – and took a part-time position at Camberwell assisting Frank Martin in teaching wood-engraving and lettering and writing and illuminating under Vernon Shearer. He took on various commissions for lettering, on seeing some of which the typographic designer, Berthold Wolpe suggested he apply for a place at the Royal College of Art, as a result of which he studied there from 1960 to 1963.

While there, he one day found an apparently empty room in which to do some work which happened to have some bookbindings in it, and was soon discovered there by Peter Waters, then working with Roger Powell and teaching bookbinding one day a week at the RCA. As result of this encounter, Chris added ‘Fine Binding’ to his studies for his last two years. He was not allowed to give up his other studies and had to complete twelve bindings for his final diploma show in addition to his other work, as well as studying bookbinding history, helping Howard Nixon at the British Museum with his bookbinding rubbings project and going to evening classes with George Frewin at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. His encounter with Peter Waters was soon to take him to Florence and then to Washington, but before that, with the help of a Minor Travelling Scholarship from the RCA, he travelled in Europe, getting as far as Crete (he found it too hot in Greece), where his intention of walking around the island was discouraged by a local inhabitant, who provided him with a donkey by way of transport. He graduated from the RCA with an ARCA Diploma in Graphic Art in 1963 and was invited by Jeff Clements to teach graphic design, wood engraving, writing and illuminating, letter cutting and ‘fine’ bookbinding to diploma level at the Plymouth School of Art and Design. After that, in 1964/5, he went on to work under Tony Cains at Douglas Cockerell & Son (run by Sydney (Sandy) M. Cockerell) in Grantchester, outside Cambridge to learn more about the repair of early printed books and manuscripts, and later with Roger Powell in Froxfield, Hampshire. At some point in and amongst these other activities, he developed a keen interest in origami.

Late in 1966 he was invited by Tony Cains to join the English Government team in Florence after the devastating flood of 4 November, to work with him, Peter Waters, Don Etherington and Roger and Rita Powell as they began to work with the international teams assembling to rescue the millions of books that had been damaged by water, mud, sewage and oil. On arrival, Chris was put in charge of the many volunteers at the Florence Railway Power Station, where books were being washed and dried. They subsequently moved into the workshop created in the main reading rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (BNCF), where he worked on devising treatment protocols as well as supervising and teaching volunteers and students carrying out basic treatment procedures. His growing awareness of the importance of the bindings, not only as examples of a medieval craft, but also as part of the history of each book began to inform his approach to their repair. As a result, he began to train selected volunteers and binding staff in the application of approaches to book restoration based on those being established in painting conservation. It was therefore in Florence that he began to formulate, along with the other bookbinders with whom he was working, the principles of what became known as ‘book conservation’ (a phrase he coined), as opposed to the simple repair of books without reference to the historical and archaeological significance of their bindings. He also started to note the strengths and weaknesses of the various types of binding structures on the books they were working on and began to question why so many limp binding structures had survived intact when other binding types had suffered badly. He went on to develop methods of limp vellum binding based on late medieval examples that he had seen in Florence.

By 1971, Frazer Poole, who had visited the BNCF, had taken Peter Waters and Don Etherington to Washington to work at the Library of Congress. Chris continued to repair books from Florence in Roger Powell’s workshop in Hampshire, but by January 1972, with his newly-married wife, Oonagh O’Donoghue, (they were married in September 1971), he joined Peter Waters and Don Etherington in Washington, where he was made Head of Rare Book Preservation. He developed a section devoted to the conservation and treatment of the rare book and special collection material within the Library and was closely involved in designing the first library and archive preservation and treatment programmes. This included radical thinking about collection care, which included designing different types of protective enclosures (the now ubiquitous ‘phase box’ temporary wrapper was one of these) and setting up survey programmes within the collections. With Don Etherington’s help, he worked with suppliers and manufacturers to achieve the high standards in materials required for conservation purposes, a concern that remained with him throughout his working life. With the exhibition department, he pioneered the use of Plexiglas to create the first plastic book cradles designed to support and protect books on display in exhibitions. At the same time, he continued his research on binding structures and past repair techniques, and finished a detailed report on Limp Vellum Binding which was sadly never published, though the film made to accompany it does survive, and he published his paper entitled ‘Limp Vellum Binding’ in 1985 (a revised edition was published in 2005).

For the National Gallery of Art, Chris was approached to work on the housing and display of the Rosenwald collection of miniatures cut out of medieval manuscripts. The thread mounting technique that he invented for this purpose utilizes the principle that twisted thread shortens and lengthens in environmental fluctuation in the opposite way to the expansion and contraction of parchment in the same conditions. This work culminated in a small, jewel-like exhibition at the Gallery. He also worked on the Freer Gallery’s collection of Islamic manuscript fragments. In1977, he accepted a position at The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, where he was the first conservator of their manuscript collection. He set up a small workshop and also helped write Lilian Randall write the codicological and binding descriptions in their new manuscript catalogue “Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Walters Art Gallery”.

In 1979 Chris moved back to England to accept a post as the first Conservation Technical Officer at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. With Michael Turner as Head of Conservation and Judy Segal as the only paper conservator, they set up a Preservation and Conservation Section which combined the General Bindery and later the Stack staff and Photography sections. The section also became responsible for organising, designing and running the Book and Manuscript Programmes for the Oxford University Libraries. Later they were able to organise a more secure and safer exhibition policy. Chris was able to set-up a small area where he could carry out conservation, repair and rebinding projects, as well as one-to-one teaching. Among his innovations while at the Bodleian Library were adjustable book cradles for the more controlled and gentle handling of books during conservation treatments and photography. He also devised, with help from David Cooper, the system of foam-rubber wedges to support books in reading room use; they are now to be found in rare-book collections throughout the world. He was also able to pursue his interest in twelfth-century romanesque bindings, made in what he described, characteristically, as one of the last great periods of creative bookbinding and structural development.

At this time Chris sat on various British Standards Institution (BSI) Committees, looking into archival materials, shelf storage, environmental standards etc., and worked with Stuart Welch initially of the Atlantis Paper Co Ltd., and subsequently (1992) director of Conservation by Design in developing a fully archival board for use in book and archive conservation and in supplying other specialist papers.

Concerned about poor training in the field of the conservation of books and manuscripts, Chris moved in 1987 to The Edward James Foundation at West Dean College know, near Chichester, taking a cut in salary to do so. He worked there on many medieval manuscripts and ran an internship programme which provided an opportunity for selected conservators from around the world to develop a deeper understanding of the conservation and repair of library and archive material. When the West Dean workshop closed in 1998, he returned to Oxford, and set up in private practice, working also as conservation consultant to the Bodleian Library, The Wordsworth Trust and the Hereford Cathedral Mappa Mundi Trust and Chained Library. As a freelance conservator, he worked on the conservation of many important manuscripts and early printed books for well-known Institutions in Europe and America, including most recently, the first two volumes of the twelfth-century Winchester Bible, work on the second of which was interrupted by his failing health.

For eight years, he ran a two-week Staff Training Programme for The National Archives and National Library of Slovenia and also ran regular staff training programmes for the Bodleian Library and the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage in the Lake District. He gave lectures, workshops and conducted condition & treatment surveys in many countries, including Japan and South America, and taught for many years at the Rare Book School established by Terry Belanger, first at Columbia University in New York and afterwards at the University of Virginia. As an authority on the history of bookbinding structure, he worked with the staff of the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York on their early Coptic Binding collections. He also acted as a government representative advising Danish and Icelandic libraries on early manuscripts and reported on the condition of the Book of Kells for Trinity College Dublin. His latest report was for the National Museum of Ireland concerning the stabilization of the eighth-century psalter discovered in a peat bog in July 2006. The report contained historical comparisons and suggestions as to possible treatments. He wrote reports on the early fifth-century Ms. Syriac 30 and the fragments of the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, discovered in the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai in 1973.

In 2004 he was awarded the Plowden Gold Medal of the Royal Warrant Holders Association in recognition of his significant contribution to the advancement of the conservation profession. An extract of the citation reads, “… Chris’s contribution to training and educating young conservators around the world has led to the invaluable dissemination of his approach to conservation and the paradigm of minimal intervention. As an archaeologist of the book, his teachings have fostered a deep historical awareness of the object, requiring profound knowledge of a wide variety of materials and a broad repertoire of techniques…”. Chris published on various aspects of the materials and techniques of book conservation and on medieval book production and binding techniques, taking enormous trouble over the language used to describe historical books and their condition and treatment. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of the Arts London (which incorporates the Camberwell School of Art) in 2012.

For those of us who have followed in Chris’s wake over the years, the loss of what had seemed to be a fixed star in the firmament of conservation is a terrible shock. For years, he made himself available to teach and discuss questions of treatment and the history of bookbinding, sharing with colleagues and students alike his extraordinary breadth of knowledge and his burning sense of the importance of historical books and how they should be treated. Fired by a single-minded determination to know everything that was necessary for his work, he sometimes seemed disappointed that he hadn’t been able to do more to get his message across, but, in reality, there is scarcely a book conservator working today who has not been influenced, directly or indirectly, by his approach to his work and by his technical skills, and many of us owe him a great debt of gratitude for what we have learned from him and for his help. That he achieved all of this without a formal training in conservation (there was no such training when he started out) and little conventional schooling is a testament to his determination to do the best that he could for the material to which his life’s work was dedicated. What is now taught as book conservation is to a large extent the result of the pioneering work that he and others carried out in the years after the floods in Florence in 1966. His true legacy will be the example that he set, which those now working in the field and those yet to enter it will do well to follow.

He is survived by his wife Oonagh and their two children, Eoghan and Siobhan, and grand-daughter Seren and sister, Josie Smart.

Nicholas Pickwoad
Ligatus Research Centre, University of the Arts London
12 April, 2017

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Christopher Clarkson

I am writing to give you the sad news that Christopher Clarkson died in hospital shortly before midnight on Thursday, 30 March. I had seen him at home the previous Monday and although weak, he seemed stable and much as he had been for some weeks, but his condition suddenly deteroriated on Thursday morning and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital, by which time apparently he was all but unconscious.

This is a terrible shock for us all, but particularly for his wife, Oonagh, and their children, Eoghan and Siobhan and grand-daughter Seren. No arrangements have yet been made about his funeral, but there is sure to be an event in the coming months to commemorate his life and work, and I will make sure that you know what may be planned as soon I know it myself. There will be a fuller obituary in a few days.

For those of you who know his wife Oonagh, and would like to write to her, please contact Ligatus for the address.

With best wishes

Nicholas Pickwoad


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