Bexx Caswell
Bookbinding and Conservation

All photographs show the item after treatment.  This type of  protective enclosure portects the item during storage, and provides support during handling and use. This is the University's oldest volume, and is frequently displayed.
Title: Quaestiones de veritate.
Author: Thomas, Aquinas, Saint, 1225?-1274
Imprint: Colonie : Johann Koelhoeff de Lubeck, 1475. 
Subjects: Knowledge, Theory of
Description:  [484] leaves; 30 cm. (fol.)
Notes:  Binder's title: Quaestiones disputatae.
Fol. 1b: Incipiūt tituli questionū de veritate disputatarū a frē Thoma de aquino.
First edition.
Imprint from colophon.
Leaves 5 and 484 are blank.
Gothic type; double columns; 40 lines; catchwords.
Genre:  Incunabula
Contributors:  Koelhoff, Johann, d. 1493 printer.
Other titles:  Quaestiones disputatae.

The printer, Johan Köllhoff began his printing career in Cologne, Germany in 1472.  He is credited with introducing the printer’s mark to the backs of signatures.  “He began his career in Cologne with the printing of 12 tracts by Thomas Aquinas” (Clair, 15).  This volume, printing in 1475, was likely one of those tracts.
The sewing, endbands, and boards appear to be original to the book, however the book has been rebacked at least once (possibly twice), and the metal furnishings have been removed. 
The book is sewn on double flexible cord supports laced into the boards.  The endbands are also sewn on cords, and laced into the boards.   The first (and last) folio has been reinforced with vellum sewn through the fold on the inside of the quire, as illustrated in Szirmai, fig.. 9.2, ex. h.  The inner joint has been broken at the head and tail to facilitate a later repair.   All of these elements are very typical of this time period.
The book originally had 5 bosses (one at each corner, and one on the center) on each cover, probably made of brass. These have since been removed.  We can guess what these look like based on surviving examples.  Szirmai also illustrates several examples of German furniture (Szirmai, pg. 264). 
The fastenings have also been removed. Based on the shape and placement of the now empty recesses (2), I believe that a hook and clasp style fastening was used.  It latched on the top, which is typical of German bindings being executed during this time (see fig. 9.16, Szirmai pg. 253).  Again, based on the shape of the recesses, the clasps probably looked very much like example h, as illustrated in fig. 9.52, Szirmai pg. 259.  Why have the furnishings been removed?  Because they were made of brass, it is unlikely that they were removed for the value of the metal.  It is possible that they were removed during past repairs to in an effort to make the book easier to shelve.  It is also possibly that they were removed in an effort to ‘modernize’ the book for use.  Another theory is that they were removed because they had corroded.  The leather bindings has had numerous applications of leather dressing applied in the past, which has turned the leather black in some places, and giving it a cloudy appearance and waxy feel in other places.  Various leather dressings were commonly used as a means of preservation during the 19th & 20th centuries, however they have fallen out a favor with conservators for the reasons described above.  In addition to harming the leather, these dressing can cause brass furnishing to develop an unattractive patina or other corrosion product.
The book has been rebacked at least once, with inferior quality calfskin.  A spine piece, possible from an earlier repair, has been retained.  The spine piece is clearly of a different leather, and shows evidence of gold tooling, which is not consistent with the covers.  Typical 15th c. Gothic bindings had a very restricted opening, and so repeated use would naturally cause the joints to break.   The subsequent repairs were probably executed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when available leather tended to be of very poor quality. 
Nine decorative tools are used on the binding.  I used Einbanddatenbank, a German database of bookbindings to research and identify these tools.  The website can be accessed at 
Eight of the nine decorative tools used on the book are in the Einbanddatenbank, and are attributed to  Sankt Georg (Saint George) Monastery located in Köln (Cologne), Germany.  Bindings were produced here from 1459-1498.  The time period in which the bindery operated provides further indication that the binding we have is in fact original to the book.   All of the impressions of the ninth tool are very difficult to read, however it does not appear to be indexed in the Einbanddatenbank.  It can however, be assumed that this tool can also be attributed to the Saint George Monastery.  A rubbing of the impression is included in this packet.
A custom cradle box was constructed to house the book.  This type of box provides protection for the book, and can also function as a temporary display cradle.  The angle of the cradle was chosen based on the book’s naturally restricted opening.  It also prevents users from forcing the book to open flat, causing damage.  Because the book’s cover boards are shaped rather than flat, the box is lined with 1/8” Volara  to provide extra cushioning/support.


Beaty, Katherine.  Cradle Box (Double tray clamshell box with built in fold out cradle).  Katherine Beaty, 2005.

Clair, Colin.  A Chronology of Printing.  London: Cassell, 1969.

Einbanddatenbank gerördert durch die Deutche Fortschungsgemeinschaft,

Szirmai, J.A. The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding.   Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999.

Waters Art Gallery.  The History of Bookbinding 525-1950 AD.  Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery, 1957.






1. Holes indicating the placement of the bosses.

2. Recessed areas in the wood for the hook and clasp style fastening, which latched on the upper board.

3. Horse (EBDB s017453)

4. Bird with Young (EBDB s017443 )

6. Lilly (EBDB s017470)

7. Branches (EBDB s017457 )

8. Double Eagle (EBDB s017452)

9. Pomegranate (EBDB s017468)

10. Unidentfied tool

11. Rosette (EBDB s017466)

Text and images used with permission of the Iowa State University Library
Upper Board
Lower Board
Copyright Iowa State University Library
Copyright Iowa State University Library
Copyright Iowa State University Library
Copyright Iowa State University Library
Copyright Iowa State University Library
Copyright Iowa State University Library