One of two copies of the 500-year-old Nuremberg Chronicle owned by Scripps College has been restored and is available for students to use for projects and research purposes at Scripps’ Ella Strong Denison Library.
The Nuremberg Chronicle, which was first published in Latin and German in 1493, is an illustrated biblical paraphrase of the history of the world.
The process of restoration was done entirely by hand over a span of approximately two years. Holly Moore, the head of conservation at the Huntington Library, and Justin Johnson, the library’s book conservator, restored the book on contract.
“The book came to me in a very degraded state,” Moore said. “The leaves were stained, the leather was coming apart, it was dissolved in some areas, it had gotten wet and there had been mold on it at one time. The book was coming apart.”
Moore had to unbind the book, which is fairly large and heavy, with over 300 leaves. She washed each leaf three times and resized each leaf. The leaves were then sewn onto new supporting chords.
Johnson was involved in the later stages of the restoration.
“I think it was in a dire state prior to treatment and now it’s in a much better state,” Johnson said. “It certainly retained is original character.”
Johnson worked on the cover, attaching the boards, covering them in leather and carrying out finishing details.
The copy was gifted to the Denison Library by Arthur M. Ellis, the father-in-law of a Scripps alumna, in 1964.
Judy Sahak, director of the Denison Library, was very excited about having the book back at Scripps.
“It was not an effort to restore, but to bring back to life,” Sahak said. “Every book is a living thing in many ways, it has its own beginning and end, it has its own story to tell. And it is now reborn.”
“[Holly Moore] didn’t try to take it back completely, but she also wanted the final appearance of the book to have a fifteenth-century look even if she didn’t restore it precisely the way it had been,” Sahak said.
For Sahak, having the physical book available is very significant.
“Touching the 500-year-old paper, turning the pages, just having the same experience that scholars, researchers and students have had for over the last 500 years … is such a thrilling experience,” she said.
“Some people might say it’s an anachronism, but I think it’s important for students and scholars to know that not only did 21st-century conservators spend a great deal of time and effort on this book, bringing it back to life, but the very act of bringing this book to life 500 years later was a long, involved and sometimes difficult undertaking,” Sahak said.
The paper was handmade, the printing was done by hand, the type was cast by hand and the ink was made by hand.
“You can see the hand of the maker in all of these processes. And that physical, tactile connection to this book lasts this whole span of 500 years,” Sahak said. “The work that Holly and Justin have done echoes that handwork that was initially done to bring it to life. And I think that connection over that span of time is such a valuable connection for students and researchers to see and experience.”