52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 26: A 15th century edition of Josephus bound in near contemporary reverse sheep with a cover title inside a horn window

A handwritten cover title placed under a window made of horn and fastened with a brass plate, found on TypIV.A86VJ.

Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover. This book caught my eye as I was pulling some items from the incunabula section because of the strange look of its covering material. It is the 1486 Venetian printing of Flavius Josephus’s Opera, bound with a 1492 printing of Seneca’s Opera. Not only is this book bound in near contemporary reverse sheep, that, for the most part, has survived 500 years of mildew and rot, it also has a very striking feature on its front cover: a handwritten title that has been placed under a horn window, fixed to the front board using a brass plate.

The full front cover of the 1486 Venetian printing of Josephus's Opera, bound in reverse sheepskin.

The book has surprisingly survived in a decent state: reverse bindings (i.e. flesh side of an animal skin facing out) are usually not as robust as a standard, skin-side out, binding. It was conserved in 1959, but it only needed rebacking, re-sewn, and some of the mildewed pages treated. This book has a well-documented ownership history, chronicled on the prologue leaf (a2r):  an ownership from the Glasgow Franciscan Friary at the head of the page, an ownership inscription of Peter Young, dated 1579, is probably when this book was picked up from Glasgow, and finally a donation inscription to St Leonard’s College from Patrick Young is found at the foot of the page.

The prologue page of Josephus's Opera, featuring three early ownership inscriptions.

The library has four other books that feature horn window titles, all formerly owned by Archbishop William Scheves. It is a striking feature to find on any book indeed!

DG

One response to “52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 26: A 15th century edition of Josephus bound in near contemporary reverse sheep with a cover title inside a horn window

  1. Pingback: Judging a Book by its Cover | medievalbooks·

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