This post was written by Matthew Murphy, Head of Cataloging and Metadata
Books can often tell stories far beyond the texts they contain. Every book is an artifact, built up from a multitude of components in a myriad of ways. Whether it is the paper the text is printed on, the thread the book was sewn with, or the binding that holds the book together, each piece can tell a tale if you look hard enough. We all know about the metaphor reminding us to not judge book by its cover, but for the sake of this blog post, let’s take it as plain speech:
This volume, on permanent loan from the Beekman Family Association, is an example of a “waste binding,” or more specifically, a “manuscript waste binding.” This practice, which was common from the late fifteenth century onward, involved re-purposing old manuscripts to be used for book coverings. These manuscripts, which were written primarily on vellum (or “parchment”), had either been supplanted by newer manuscript copies, or replaced altogether by printed copies. Though they were no longer needed for their original purpose, the vellum upon which the manuscripts were written could still be re-used for book bindings. These manuscript waste bindings were done from an economic point of view, rather than an aesthetic one — even though it may seem pleasing to our eyes. New vellum or leather for a binding was very expensive, and this recycling of material provided an easy solution. A modern equivalent would be the brown paper shopping bag cover that so many of us would put on their school textbooks: hardly pleasing to the eye, but functional and a good use of something that would otherwise be thrown away.
This work within this curious binding is Ein new gülden A.B.C. der fürnemsten Lehr- vnd Trostreichsten Namen Christi Iesu vnsers Heylandes, Altes vnd Newes Testaments: Nach Ordnung der Buchstaben, in vnserm Deutschen Alphabeth … in XXII Predigten erkleret vnd aussgelegt. It is circa 1626 a collection of sermons and meditations on the name of Jesus Christ, by Lutheran theologian Wilhelm Alard (1572-1645). Bound in after Ein new gülden A.B.C. is a second work by Alard, Das ander Gülden A.B.C., published in 1624.
Like many other titles in the Beekman Family Library, this work belonged to Philip Milledoler (1775-1852), who was a minister who served both the Presbyterian and German Reformed Churches. Milledoler was also the president of Rutgers University (then known as Rutgers College) from 1825-1840. Milledoler’s connection to the Beekmans is that he was the father of Abian (Abby Anne) Steele Milledoler (1820-1897), who married James W. Beekman (1815-1877) in 1840.
It is unclear as to what the manuscript was in a previous life; the script is difficult to read, and faded in many places. Perhaps an intrepid researcher is up to the task! They would certainly also be sure to also examine the spine lining, which was only made visible by age and the passage of time: