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University Libraries

Collection Conservation: 61 Medieval Manuscript Leaves

By Amy Rohmiller

University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections (UASC) recently received two of its treasures back from almost a year of treatment in a conservation lab. Thanks to a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), awarded by the State Library of Ohio, along with funding from the Father Roesch Library Collections Endowment, 61 medieval manuscript leaves are now stored in new, custom-made archival housings that will allow these items to be used and preserved for a long time to come. 

Sixty of the items make up the Beissel Collection, a paleography teaching collection that represents nearly every major known script from 800 through 1700. Some of the leaves also have illuminations and drawings. (As defined by Merriam-Webster, paleography is “the study of ancient or antiquated writings and inscriptions; the deciphering and interpretation of historical writing systems and manuscripts.”) Father Stephen J. Beissel, S.J., a historian of the medieval period and a Marian theologian, assembled the collection, which UD acquired in 1959.

The 61st item is from the Golden Legend, an influential collection on the lives of saints. UD’s manuscript leaf is from 1488 and contains a biography of St. Gothart, a medieval German Benedictine monk and bishop. Victor Emanuel, a 1915 UD alumnus and the principal donor for UD’s first library building, Albert Emanuel Hall, donated the leaf to the university in 1929 shortly after the building was dedicated. 

Prior to their conservation, these pieces were housed in acidic mats with fragile adhesives that made it hard to see both sides of the leaf.  Professional conservator Laura Moeller, who specializes in treating works on paper, created new housing that both keeps them safe and allows them to be used by students and researchers.

Moeller’s treatments included removing them from their old housings; cleaning the fragments; removing adhesive residues and paper remnants; creating a window mat for each piece; mounting each leaf on a larger sheet of Mylar so that users can turn the page over without touching it; and rehousing all the matted pieces in archival boxes.

You can view pictures of the Beissel Collection and the Golden Legend during treatment, with Moeller’s descriptions of the process, in the photo gallery below and make an appointment to view the newly conserved items.

— Amy Rohmiller is the associate University archivist in University Archives and Special Collections.

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