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Elizabethan Pocket Almanac

Friday, June 21, 2013
Submitted by Pamela Olson*

Spitzmueller's Exemplar
Spitzmueller’s Exemplar
During the second week of PBI, I participated in a workshop by Pamela Spitzmueller, former conservator for the University of Iowa Libraries and currently a rare book conservator for Harvard University. The focus of her workshop was to study and create a model of an Elizabethan pocket almanac housed at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. We began by viewing exemplars and images of almanacs, writing tables, and calendar books from various collections throughout the world.

The Houghton almanac is dated from 1581 and includes a calendar for 24 years, tables of weights and measures, prayers, a history of England, and five bifolios of erasable pages for notetaking. It measures 4 3/8 x 3 inches with the spine at the head of the text block, and a full-leather cover impressed with a decorative block and line tooling. A stylus is housed in a groove in the back cover, and the erasable pages are made of parchment coated with gesso and animal glue, to be written upon with the stylus and erased with a damp cloth or sponge. Because this type of book was used daily and discarded when finished, extant copies are rare.

Following an in-depth discussion of the exemplar, we began making our own models as Spitzmueller presented demonstrations of creating erasable surfaces with parchment size and gouache, making the stylus, sewing the text block onto three cords, trimming and shaping the wood covers, rounding and lining the spine, attaching boards to the text block, adhering and embossing the leather cover, and making hooks and clasps out of brass. By the end of a productive week, each participant brought home their own historical model of this rare and unusual book.

*Pamela is currently in travel mode conducting research for her thesis.