Most people who visit the West Hall of the Library over the next few months will be introduced to a technique they had never heard of before. “Illuminated Palaces: Extra-Illustrated Books from the Huntington Library,” which opens on Saturday, July 27, and runs through Oct. 28, features more than 40 works representing the eccentric art of customizing printed books by adding illustrations.
If practitioners simply adhered items to sheets of paper and bound the pages together, they would end up with a lumpy, inelegant book bulging in the middle. By cutting a window in each sheet, they could still close the book after adding new material.
This process, known as inlaying and demonstrated in the time-lapse video above, was an art form in and of itself. The edges of both the print and the sheet of paper had to be pared down to fit together seamlessly. If you pared off too much, you could cut right through to the front of the print (a disaster!), and if you didn’t pare enough, there would still be a ridge where the sheets overlapped, causing creases in the adjacent pages. Once all the items were inlaid, the pages would be bound together to create an extra-illustrated book.
From a conservation standpoint, however, we should remember that inlaying causes irreparable damage to books and prints and is not practiced by modern conservators. However book historians and conservators still study the process so they can better understand how extra-illustrated books were made and how they might degrade. The demonstration in this video uses a modern facsimile (a digital photograph of a lithograph, printed on a LaserJet).
Jessamy Gloor is the Kemble Conservator in the preservation department at The Huntington.
Kate Lain is the new media developer in the office of communications at The Huntington.