Bookmaking: Treasures!

[Part of a series on my bookmaking internship at the Kyujanggak conservation lab.]

While working on my book models at the lab, I sometimes had the opportunity to see some original books or paintings or other neat projects that conservators were working on. For example, on my first day at the lab, my teacher was showing me different examples of silks used for painting or for binding. This was an example of stiff, thin silk, painted with animal glue:

silk sized with animal glue

The sized silk was thin, shiny, and rattly like paper. This was then used as a practice substrate for a painting replica:

duplicate painting on silk

closeup of duplicate painting on silk
Close-up of replica

She then showed me the original, which was part of a series of four paintings from the 1780s. Each of the paintings was housed as a separate panel that could open flat, with individual covers, but the binding was kind of like a drum leaf with a silk frame. This kind of binding is called 화첩 — an album structure used for housing paintings or calligraphy.

화첩 covers and inside

Another exciting treasure I got to see first-hand was an original copy of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty (조선왕조실록) from the 15th century, during the reign of King Sejong. They had come into the lab for some repair, which my teacher 신미 was working on.

annals outside
The volume on the left has dyed hanji covers; the volume on the right has indigo-dyed silk covers

There were some herbs sprinkled in the gutter of the book, which she was collecting in a little plastic bag:

annals herbs

Apparently these medicinal herbs had been inserted in the book long ago to preserve the paper and ward off book worms.

annals closeup2

The pages were heavily waxed with a very strong wax scent. The printing looked very clear and black. I had seen many replicas of the Annals, but this was my first time handling an original!

annals printing2

I’m sure conservators are used to working so closely with rare books and precious artwork, but for me it was definitely a treat!


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