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Bringing a rare herbal back to life

Hosting an exhibition at the Library always presents us with the opportunity to conserve items in the collection that might otherwise remain in the state in which they are received. Our Planting Dreams exhibition features approximately 140 items from the State Library’s collection, many of which have required conservation treatments. One of the older items in the exhibition required considerable treatment, a herbal, Herbarum vivae eicones ,1532-1536 by Otto Brunfels.

Herbarum vivae eicones or “Living portraits of Plants”, is a book describing plants, their appearance, medicinal properties and information on how to prepare and use them.  Herbarum vivae eicones was a major break with tradition as the illustrations by Hans Weiditz (c.1495-c.1536) were woodcuts produced from live specimens rather than copies from previous work. The resulting illustrations were more lifelike than anything printed before. The copy in the Library’s Rare Book collection was rebound sometime in the 18th century and features a trade European style binding typical of the time.

The volume came to the Library as part of the David Scott Mitchell Bequest following his death in 1907  and was in a desperate state of repair. The sewing structure had broken down and the text block and leather spine were splitting in several parts. It was in a vulnerable state and not in a condition to be issued to clients or displayed in an exhibition. It was decided that extensive treatment would be necessary for this work of art to be included in Planting Dreams. 

The entire text block in 80 sections comprising 438 pages was pulled apart to be dry cleaned of dust, dirt and animal glue then repaired with thin Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste. The text block was then resewn with linen thread on 6 double linen cords, as it would have been originally. The broken head and tail headbands were replaced by new handmade ones sympathetic to the original and new boards were reattached. The book was then fully covered with a pared, dyed and prepared calf leather to match the remaining original leather. The front and back original leather covers were repositioned and glued on the new covering leather and new endpapers and pastedowns were added. The original bookplates of the previous owners were repositioned in the front cover. Finally, a custom made clamshell box was made to house the book into the future.

 The Library’s cherished copy of Otto Brunfels’ masterpiece  Herbarum vivae eicones  is a functional book again. It is safely accessible, structurally sound, opens easily, and is now ready for research and exhibition.

Guy Caron, Book Conservator, Collection Care

 

Herbarum vivae eicones by Otto Brunfels  will be on display in Planting Dreams: Shaping Australian Gardens from 3 September 2016 to 15 January 2017

 

Conservation treatment on Herbarum vivae eicones by Otto Brunfels

Rare book spine in damaged condition
Herbarum vivae eicones spine pre treatment
Book with broken spine in pieces

Herbarum vivae eicones spine pre treatment

Herbarum vivae eicones spine pre treatment
Brunfels treatment 2

Herbarum vivae eicones with damaged headbands pre treatment

Herbarum vivae eicones with damaged headbands pre treatment
Book with broken spine in pieces
Herbarum vivae eicones spine pre treatment
Book in poor condition, cover separated from rest of book
Herbarum vivae eicones pre treatment
Spine of book in pieces
Herbarum vivae eicones, pieces of original gilded spine receiving treatment
Spine of book in pieces being repaired
Herbarum vivae eicones, pieces of original gilded spine receiving treatment
Five separate pages of book with weights down spine edge being flattened
Herbarum vivae eicones, book sections receiving treatment
Book reassembled with spine restitched, stitching visible
Herbarum vivae eicones, text block after sewing
Book in clamp with spine up in preparation for repair
Herbarum vivae eicones, rounded spine reinforced with Japanese tissue
Close up image of repaired tail headband
Herbarum vivae eicones with new headbands
Repaired book with boards attached
Herbarum vivae eicones, text block with new cover boards attached
Book in clamp with spine showing, covered in leather
Herbarum vivae eicones, spine with new leather cover using string to hold shape
Close up image of repaired headband of repaired book
Herbarum vivae eicones, new headbands post treatment
Repaired book recovered in brown leather
Herbarum vivae eicones after treatment
Book open showing title page
Herbarum vivae eicones, title page

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