Monday, August 12th, 2013...10:00 am

Good things also come in fancy packages

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MS Thr 7 Title Page Detail

Having recently taken a course on the history of binding at Rare Book School, I’m more aware than ever of the splendid bindings sitting on our shelves unnoticed. The binding of a book or score is not always indicated in its catalog record, depending on when the item was cataloged, so I recently stumbled completely unaware upon a gorgeous binding of black morocco with a semé pattern (a background pattern of small tools) of decorative hearts.

MS Thr 7 Cover

The front cover and the back cover match, and if you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see that each of the patterns in the corners and the center are made up of lots of little stamps, rather than one large stamp. Such a magnificent binding: whatever was so valued by its owner as to merit such a cover?

MS Thr 7 Title Page

Clarasilla is a play by Thomas Killigrew, who worked on it during a visit to Italy in 1636 in the company of Walter Montagu (for more information about the play’s history and importance, Mariko Nagase provides an extensive discussion in her doctoral thesis, and further reading is listed in the Wikipedia article above). This manuscript copy of the play was in the Castle Howard library until 1944 when it came to the Harvard Theatre Collection at Houghton. If you look carefully at the title page above, you’ll see some doodling by Lady Mary Montagu, a former owner.

The title page appears to be in Killigrew’s own handwriting, but the rest of the work is in an unknown scribal hand (possibly Italian) apparently copied in 1639. Full of stage directions, some scholars have suggested that the manuscript might represent a later revision. The only thing I can add to the discussion is that I do believe the title page above is in Killigrew’s hand.

TS 992-31-7(40)

We have a document in the Theatre Collection appointing a John Lawrence to receive from the exchequer 20 pounds out of Killigrew’s yearly pension. While this document was signed many years later in 1675, that “T” looks unique. What do you think? What I think is that I’m going to be examining more fancy bindings: you just never know what you’ll find inside!

[Thanks to Andrea Cawelti, Ward Music Cataloger, for contributing this post.]

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