A Very Old Book: Les Commentaires De Cesar

You know how people say,
this is why we can't have nice things? Well this is my nice thing, and knock on wood, I haven't ruined it, and I'm good at ruining nice things. It's incredible, I'm very capable of delivering neat, precise work to others but terrible at caring for my own possessions. I don't know. It's weird.

I've had this book for a very long time. It belonged to my great-grandfather. My great-grandfather was an academic and historian in France. I remember standing in his library in Aix-en-Provence and being told I could pick out one book and I picked this, the oldest looking book on the shelf. It dates from 1658.

Now that I make books, it's become a much more interesting object to me and the damage that seemed so unfortunate fortunately reveals the structure of the binding. So although I am no expert, I will tell you what I know of how this book was made.

To bind this book, the pages were sewn onto double raised cords that were then threaded through the front and back covers which were then covered in leather. They are called raised because you can see them bulging through the leather on the spine.

On the top of the book are endbands sewn over top a paper core. Two alternating colored threads were wrapped over the core for a decorative effect. The back of the book is lined with used parchment. Parchment was a valuable material and old manuscripts, this one handwritten, were taken apart and used again when no longer useful.

This is truly one of my favorite things about books, seeing how materials were reused and how much character it adds to the object.

At this time, all paper was made in a manner that we consider 'handmade' today and such paper was made from linen or cotton rags, no longer usable as clothing but very valuable to the papermaker. The paper is full of textures and inclusions that could be considered imperfections, but it has lasted almost four hundred years. That's right copy paper, four hundred years.

the texture of laid mould handmade paper

This book also has beautiful printing, sprinkled with ornamentation and maps

My family is from France and the quantity of, well, very old things is so much greater there than here and these very old things are passed on or trashed with a nonchalance that is jarring to an American like me. They are just not that exceptional over there. But I guess that makes me lucky. My family thought this book made an acceptable gift to an 8 year old and that's pretty great for me. Vive la France.