The Del Dritto Municipale di Malta (Malta, 1784), is often referred to as the ‘Codice de Rohan’. It was commissioned in 1776, by the then Grand Master Emanuel de Rohan Polduc, the last Grand Master of the ruling Order of St John. Part of de Rohan’s reforms included a thorough restructuring of the courts and a revision of the constitution. The Codice, or at least parts of it, was used well into the time of the British occupation of Malta, making it one of the most influential publications printed on the island (Thake, 2015). The National Constitutional Court of Malta is the owner of one copy of the book and commissioned its conservation.
The bookʼs initial state revealed that it had been affected throughout by harsh interventions done by restorers in the early part of the twentieth century. It had been rebound according to the fashion of the time, which robbed the book of its historical significance and gave it a poor opening.
The book was clearly in bad condition, having been attacked by bookworms throughout the text block. Almost 85% of the pages had been damaged by holes, as had the boards and, more noticeably, the spine.
The spine contained animal protein from the use of rabbit glue, which resulted in a concentrated attack on it, which in turn had caused further fracturing of the spine and sewing. As a result, the textblock had split into three parts, and this had caused additional damage such as tears to the loose pages of the textblock.
High RH and high temperature in Malta persist throughout the year, and this is one of the main factors to keep in mind when devising a proper and effective plan for pest control, as bookworms thrive under these conditions. The holes in the textblock, binding, chewed areas and scraped surfaces showed clear evidence of pest attack by Anobium punctatum (the common furniture beetle) and Lepisma saccharina (silverfish).
While biological effects compromised the physical integrity of the book, its intellectual content and artistic perception were affected by previous restoration efforts. The use of adhesive tapes and glued paper as treatment for the repair of loose pages made the book fragile overall and added to its disfiguration. The present half-binding style was from a previous intervention and not original, and unsuited to the period of the book. The existing binding also affected the historical context and the character of this eighteenth-century object. The materials used were synthetic instead of the more likely leather and marbled paper, and originally it would probably have had raised bands and full leather covers with gold tooling.
The poor condition of the book meant that it needed a rebind. My proposal was to revert to a more suitable generic eighteenth-century style. Although I did not have the opportunity to see another copy due to its rarity, I decided to study references from the Restoration period without straying too far from the style of Roger Payne and his books for the aristocracy.
The significant structural damage and the loose spine that produced deformations on all of the pages led to my decision to disbind the book. The boards were removed and the aged animal glue was removed from the spine. All of the sections of the textblock were then cleaned.
The tape adhesive and old thread were removed with methyl cellulose and the very careful use of a scalpel, taking care not to damage the fibres of the paper substrate. Paper repairs were done using Japanese paper: 100% Kozo Tengujo 9gsm for tears and consolidation, and Kitikata for losses.
The sections were resewn with pure linen thread. The book was rebound in full dark blue calf leather, and as it was originally written for a Knight of Malta, and a member of the wealthy and influential Rohan family of France, I added the Grand Master’s coat of arms in gold tooling on the front board.
Dr Robert Thake, responsible for the Constitutional Court’s library, had advised me that the Court wished to exhibit the book. Following conversations with him and consultation of his article on the historical aspects of the book, I decided to make an acid-free presentation box that acted as a suitable housing for this unique specimen and was visually attractive. Designs for the box were derived from ones that I had previously created for artistic bookbindings. My inspiration was a box design that I had created for a family tree project. I felt it would be ideal as it would have a window revealing the coat of arms in gold. This box could be used for the transportation of the book and as well as its exhibition.
The Chamber of Advocates was delighted with the finished result.
A short film of this treatment is also available on YouTube, here: https://youtu.be/2aiMN18HYfw
Germán Hernández Pérez has a BA in Restoration and Conservation from the High School of Salamanca, a BA in Art History from the University of Salamanca and a BA in Graphic Design from the Art School of Salamanca. He has been conserving and restoring books, artefacts on paper and paintings for over four years in Malta. His studio, Thread & ink Malta, has vast experience in conserving books, paper, paintings and sculpture in all manner of shapes and in various states of damage. Its client list is extensive and includes leading auction houses, galleries and a large private client base.