By MARK ROOSA
The second edition of the 1576 Graduale Dominicale, a large choral book, is posing questions to paper and book conservators as it undergoes conservation treatment.
The book is being conserved because the text block was separated from the covers and the patched pages were dirty, discolored, stained and had become stiffened with age.
Received by the Music Division in 1940 as a gift from the Friends of Music in the Library of Congress, the Graduale Dominicale is the first 16th century American musical imprint in the Library's collections.
Said Music Division Chief Jon W. Newsom: "The Graduale is an early example of a liturgical book with music published in many of the Spanish colonies, and it is among the first books containing music printed in the Americas. The copy of the Graduale at the Library of Congress contains chants for the Proper of the Mass for the feasts of the Temporale for the whole liturgical year from the first Sunday in Advent to the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost."
With paper conservation mostly complete save for the question of where the paper came from, conservators at the Library and scholars in Mexico are consulting about the mysterious binding.
There are four known copies of the book. In addition to the one held by the Music Division of the Library of Congress, copies are held by Biblioteca Nacional in Mexico, by the Newberry Library in Chicago, and in private hands in Mexico.
The 420-page book was printed on a woodblock press near Mexico City in the workshop of Antonio de Espinosa, a Spaniard, with the expenses paid by Pedro Ocharte, a Frenchman. Printed in red and black ink, it is remarkable for its large initial woodblock letters decorated with figures and symbols.
The book shows a lot of use and a wide variety of repairs over the years, including:
- the title page and colophon had been replaced,
- individual tears had been sewn or darned,
- other tears, gaps and losses were filled with patches of stiff Western or European paper,
- adhesives had caused damage and discoloration, and
- decorations were redrawn and text was filled in where parts of pages had been replaced.
The job of the Library paper conservators was to restore flexibility to the stiffly rippled paper and mend the tears and losses. Sewn repairs were left intact throughout the treatment.
First, the volume was disbound. The pages were separated and the sewing was removed. Then the pages were washed to remove old sizing, and adhesive residues from patches were removed with local application of tepid water. The book was bathed in an alkaline bath to leave an alkaline reserve, which prolongs the life of the paper. Tears were then mended using wheat starch paste and strong Japanese paper, while losses were filled with acrylic-toned Japanese paper. Patches that contained writing were photocopied onto toned Japanese paper to retain the "historical fill," a Library conservation practice designed to replicate as closely as possible the previous repair treatments.
The handmade end papers and text block paper were not made by the same manufacturer. However they are from the same period, with the end papers probably French in origin, and the text block paper possibly originating in the New World, according to a fiber analysis.
Although research is continuing, "As yet, we don't have a corollary 16th century manuscript to make a comparison, so there are no conclusive findings. If it was made in the New World, it is one of the earliest examples of a European-style paper made in this hemisphere," said Senior Conservator Ann Seibert.
Paper was strictly controlled by the Spanish crown in the 16th century. But around the time this book was printed, the crown had given the earliest permission to produce paper in the New World. "This may be an example of that paper," said Ms. Seibert.
The watermarks are few and very simple in design, which would be unusual for European paper of this time. Also, the sizing made the paper very stiff, unlike the more refined European papers of the time, she said.
While Ms. Seibert searches for clues as to the paper's origin, Senior Book Conservator Mary Wootton's charge is to create a culturally and historically appropriate binding that will provide good functionality to future researchers. To do so, Ms. Wootton is consulting with conservators over what appears to be an anachronistic binding. At issue is whether to rebind it in a hardback European style or a flexible Mexican style.
The exact date of the binding and whether it was original to the text is unclear. One reason for believing that the binding is not original is that there appear to be sewing holes from previous bindings in the spines of the folios. The binding is of goatskin over wooden boards laced on three leather thongs. Most specialists feel it is not an original but an 1800s replica using early techniques.
Conservators are aware of both Northern and Southern European influences on printing and binding in Mexico at the time the book was created. They also know that the monasteries where the book was probably repaired over the years employed archaic methods. However, on a private visit to Mexico, Ms. Seibert was shown by curators at the Centro de Estudio de Historia de Mexico numerous works contemporaneous with Dominicale Graduale consistently bound in limp vellum bindings. Limp vellum, which was also used at the time in Europe, was the predominant style in Mexico.
"We are deciding whether to reproduce a European binding with wooden boards and clasps or to reproduce what we have been led to understand is more of the Mexican approach in the 16th century, which consisted of flexible, or limp, vellum without boards," said Ms. Wootton.
Adding to the mystery of the paper and binding are the missing original title page and colophon, or bibliographical data at the end of a book. They were replaced with manuscript copies written on the back of a monthly liturgical calendar. The copies appear to have been made from a second edition of the book, but it is not known when they were made.
Another clue that the volume has been rebound is evidence that a previous decorated edge had been cut off. The paper appears to have been trimmed dramatically, in some cases up to and including the printing. In their research, conservators saw slides of the copy held by the Newberry Library, which has wide margins before the type begins. In the Library's copy, one edge of the trimmed text block had been decorated in red, as witnessed by paper that had been folded in and escaped trimming.
Another puzzler is that the end papers and flyleafs pasted down on the possibly newer boards appear to be contemporary with the printing of the book rather than the bindings.
It will take a bibliographic Sherlock Holmes to re-create the mysterious history of the 443-year-old Graduale Dominicale. But after it is treated, it will be available to researchers who might do just that. Their findings would be music to many ears.
Mr. Roosa is chief of the Conservation Division. Yvonne French, a fellow in the Library's Leadership Development Program, contributed to this report.