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Sunday April 20, 2014
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Suave Mechanicals



The historical value of such information is illustrated by a rare fifteenth-century chained book, from one of the many medieval libraries that anchored their hand-copied volumes to shelves or reading desks. The massive tome is a grizzled German theological work, its covers studded with metal bumpers; a hefty black chain is attached to its back cover (shown at right). Exhibit curator Julia Miller reports that this loan from the Taubman Medical Library's rare book room is the sole chained book in the 7,484,000-volume U-M collection (there's one more with just the chain hole).

The book is one of Miller's favorites in the exhibit, along with two Ethiopian books bound in wooden plates, one a square Christian psalter housed in an elaborate leather saddlebag.

In addition to wood bindings, the exhibit offers examples in cloth, paper, leather, and genuine (animal skin) vellum. One case shows evidence of the fifteenth-century information revolution brought on by printing, when many vellum books were torn apart and their pages reused as covers for cheaper, paper books. One on display is bound in an old musical score, with the hand-inked notes and lyrics in spiky Gothic style running vertically along the front cover.

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