The Archives & Special Collections Center in collaboration with the Digital Humanities Committee recently had conservation work and digitization performed on a 17th century illuminated manuscript Qur’an from the rare book collection. The Qur’an was originally brought from Lebanon by Edwin D. Hardin, who was a missionary stationed at the American University of Beirut from approximately 1900 to 1915. It first came to Seton Hall in 2003 when it was featured in a Walsh Gallery exhibition entitled The Beauty of Sacred Texts: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies. The lender, Mr. Peter Kennedy, had intended to gift the volume to the University and in 2016 donated the Qur’an to the Archives & Special Collections Center.
The Qur’an was sent out for conservation in order to stabilize it for digitization and handling. The volume had undergone some previous repairs and was re-bound sometime during the 18th or 19th century. The envelope flap, which extends from the back cover of the volume and folds up to cover its fore edge, was very weak at the hinges and became detached during the conservator’s examination. The binding was also failing, causing some leaves to loosen and begin to detach. We sent the volume to Etherington Conservation Services in North Carolina, where conservators reattached and reinforced the envelope flap, repaired minor damage to the covers, re-sewed the binding, and re-covered the spine. While the binding was removed, they scanned the pages to create a digital copy of the book.
As a result of this work, this historic Qur’an is stable enough for handling and display, and the digital images can be made available online. This will allow researchers to view the Qur’an’s beautifully illuminated pages and intricate marginal decorations without putting stress on the volume. It will also open up many possibilities for research projects, such as a potential project to decipher and translate the annotations that appear throughout the volume. The digital collection is coming soon!
The Archives and Special Collections Center recently had conservation work performed on an early 17th century Papal Bull issued by Pope Paul V, who was Pope from 1605 until his death in 1621. The Papal Bull is a large vellum document with a lead seal attached by a cord. It was donated to the Archives by Dr. Herbert Kraft, a Professor Emeritus of anthropology at Seton Hall and director of the Seton Hall University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Pope Paul V was born Camilo Borghese in Rome in 1550. He studied jurisprudence at Perugia and Padua and became a renowned canon lawyer. He was made a cardinal in 1596 by Pope Clement VIII and was elected as Pope Leo XI’s successor in May 1605. Pope Paul V was most famous for persecuting Galileo for his defense of the heliocentric theory of Copernicus. He also canonized St. Charles Boromeo, Frances of Rome and Albert de Louvain and beatified Ignatius Loyola, Philip Neri, Teresa of Avila and Francis Xavier.
Prior to its conservation, the Papal Bull was folded several times and remained in a folded condition for so long that it was impossible to unfold without risking damage to the document. Conservators at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia were able to use a process of humidification, which is the controlled introduction of moisture, to increase the suppleness of the vellum and to allow the document to be unfolded and safely flattened. Once the document was flattened, they cleaned its surface with soft polyurethane sponges and mended a small hole in the vellum. Finally, the document and seal were housed in a custom-made mat designed to support the heavy lead seal and framed for easy displaying.
Conserving the Papal Bull revealed its text and intricate design. However, the beautiful, ornate script presented a challenge for translators. We consulted Dr. Michael Mascio in Seton Hall’s Classics Department for assistance with translating the document. He was unable to decipher the script, and conferred with a few colleagues around the country who also were unable to decipher it. On his recommendation we contacted a specialist in this area of script analysis, the Reverend Doctor Federico Gallo of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Italy. Rev. Dr. Gallo was able to work on the text during the summer months to provide us with a translation from the archaic Latin script to modern Latin. Dr. Michael Mascio is now working with Dr. Frederick Booth, also in Classics, to translate the modern Latin to English.
The Archives and Special Collections Center recently had conservation work performed on some important pieces from the collection. One of these is a 1787 edition of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. This edition was the first English-language edition of the text that was made widely available. (Its very first printing in 1785 was a small run of only 200 copies, which Jefferson distributed himself to friends and colleagues.) Notes on the State of Virginia was the only one of Jefferson’s books to be published in his lifetime, under his supervision. The copy held by the Archives and Special Collections Center still contains the fold-out maps and tables, which were frequently removed from this type of work in the past and are rarely found intact.
While the book is overall well-preserved, at 230 years old it was in need of some conservation treatment in order to make it stable enough for handling and display. In particular, the leather covers were desiccated and especially worn around the corners. The covers had detached from the text block, and were reattached at some point in the past with black cloth tape. These types of repairs can often do more damage than good, and in this case the tape had discolored the leather on the spine and left adhesive residue. The large map at the front of the volume had a tear running from its attachment to the text block to its first vertical fold, and many of the pages had small tears, creases, and surface staining. To address these issues, we took the volume to the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) in Philadelphia.
Conservators at CCAHA used a variety of techniques to correct the condition issues while preserving as much of the original binding as possible. The desiccated leather was consolidated—a technique in which a solution is used to penetrate the leather and adhere the leather fibers together. The black tape was removed from the book’s spine along with the spine leather, which was too damaged to salvage. The spine was then cleaned and re-covered with new leather dyed to match the existing covers. New endbands, additional sewing supports at the top and bottom of the spine, were also added to match the style of the old ones. They surface-cleaned accumulated dirt from the pages and mended the tear in the fold-out map. The covers were humidified and flattened, then re-attached to the text block. A custom clamshell-type box was created for the book, using archival materials.
Now that the volume has undergone treatment, the book can be handled and displayed without fear of causing further damage to the volume. Since care was taken to match the original materials and style, the repairs made to the binding keep the original character of the volume while greatly improving the book’s stability. With these measures, we will be able to have this treasure of American history in our collection for the next 230 years!