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Polish Herbal

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Saving Old Notes in a Polish Herbal



One of the most lavishly illustrated volumes published in Poland in the early sixteenth century, Stefan Falimierz’s O ziolach y o moczy gich... is also the first real encyclopedia of natural science in Polish. It was compiled from various Latin herbals, and includes such topics as herbs and their use in medicines, the medicinal uses of birds, animals, and fish, stones and minerals, and a variety of medical procedures such as bloodletting. The Falimierz herbal came to the Folger as the gift of Mary P. Massey, who gave the Folger her own large collection of herbals and botanical literature.

 

Printed in Krakow in 1534, the herbal was a popular work that saw heavy use. Almost all of the surviving copies, including this one, are incomplete. In this copy, many pages are patched with overly stiff, heavy paper that added stress to the pages as they were turned. Such patches can be removed using conventional conservation methods—but in this case, there’s an added challenge. Over time, previous readers wrote long notes (usually in Polish) right across the patches. The notes, many of which are centuries old, must be preserved, even as the patches are removed.

 

The ingenious solution, now being implemented by Folger conservator Renate Mesmer, has been to remove the patches, but to keep each one in its proper place within the book by hinging it to the original page with Japanese paper. Before the patches are hinged in place, the pages themselves will be repaired with more modern techniques. Holes and tears, often much smaller than the old, oversized patches, are being filled with computerized leafcasting.

 
Title page woodcut from a 1534 Polish herbal



Polish herbal before conservation



Heavily patched Polish herbal before conservation treatment



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