Zubdat al-Tawarick or ‘The Cream of Histories’ is a beautiful and rare manuscript composed by Sayyid Luqman Ashuri of Urmya, the Ottoman court historian in the late 16th century. The political undertone of Luqman’s text places the Ottoman rulers within the broader context of Islamic history by telling the story of the creation of the world starting with Adam and Eve, all the way to the Ottoman sultans of the 16th century and finishing with Sultan Murad III.
The manuscript was produced between 1585 and 1590 and is one of the most finely illuminated manuscripts of the Ottoman court. There are 45 fully illuminated pages and the text is written in Arabic in the Naskh script, typical of Turkish manuscript tradition. The manuscript reflects the mature style of Ottoman book illustration in the latter part of the sixteenth century.
When ‘The Cream of Histories’ came to my bench for conservation, I assessed and recorded the general condition of the manuscript and its binding.
At the joint with the upper board the endpaper had completely torn, causing the leather spine and the textile spine lining to partially detach and resulting in the spine being revealed. The sewing of the textblock appeared to be intact, but had been heavily coated with animal glue, leaving it inflexible and resulting in poor opening characteristics. This in turn added pressure and cockling to the individual folios of the textblock as the pages were turned. The binding structure was further weakened by a failing spine lining and the absence of endband attachment at head and tail.
The partially detached spine lining revealed the heavily glued-up spine folds beneath.
The failing endbands left the opening of the manuscript unsupported.
In order to repair the binding, and restore functionality to the sewing structure, the thick adhesive residue was first reduced mechanically using a spatula and knives. This method was tried but proved lengthy and resulted in damage to the outer folds of the quires as the glue was too strong for the thin paper.
For this reason, I decided to use a 4% Methyl Cellulose poultice to soften the adhesive before removal. Heavily burnished and surface sized Islamic papers, such as the pages of ‘The Cream of Histories’ can absorb moisture unevenly, resulting in deformation and disruption of the paper, or residual tensions once the paper has dried. As such, introducing moisture to the spine of this manuscript required a very controlled approach in order to avoid causing damage to the object.
I minimised moisture absorption in the burnished paper by keeping the textblock flat on my bench and limited capillary absorption by removing the poultice and adhesive promptly after the initial application.
The removal of the animal glue improved the opening characteristics of the textblock greatly, and allowed me to assess the sewing thoroughly. Although the sewing wasn’t original to the manuscript, the thread had only failed in a few areas, so with a few repairs it could still function, and I made the decision to retain the sewing and not disbind the manuscript further.
The heavily glued-up spine folds.
Carefully removing the animal glue accretions.
The spine folds had previously been repaired with a very thin paper which was becoming weak and brittle and had suffered some damage from the glue removal process. I added new repairs of Usumino paper to reinforce the existing sewing, and prevent the thread from ‘scissoring’ along the paper folds.
The binding repair style chosen for this manuscript was informed by Kristine Rose-Beers and Ana Beny’s research on historic Andalusian binding styles as a new method to conserve historic Islamic codices.
The Andalusian binding displays very specific features. It is an adhesive free structure, characterised by an underlying textile and paper spine lining, which forms the fundamental attachment between boards and the textblock. This creates a hollow at the spine and, although not typical for all Islamic bindings, it makes the structure a good option for conservation treatments, as it is easily reversible and does not add more glue to delicate spine folds.
With a new Andalusian spine lining attached, new primary endbands were sewn, further securing the attachment between the spine lining and the textblock. The lack of functioning endbands on the manuscript had played a large part in the failing of the spine. Endbands stabilise the textblock and secure the spine structure by uniting the spine lining and the quires, in turn helping to control the opening characteristics of the manuscript.
A secondary endband with a chevron pattern was woven with two colours over the primary endband. I chose a red thread as my leading colour and a yellow/gold colour as my complementary colour to match the endband threads found on the old spine.
 Rose-Beers, Kristine & Beny, Ana. (2016). An Inspiration for Conservation: An Historic Andalusi Binding Structure. Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, Volume 3., Publisher: Ann Arbour, Michigan: The Legacy Press, 2016., Editors: Julia Miller, pp.160- 195
To prepare the original binding boards for re-use the previous old leather spine reback was removed to reveal the leather edging beneath. The boards were split along the natural layers of the pasteboard and attached to the textblock using the spine lining flange inserted between the splitboard. The lower board was attached first to determine the correct position of the envelope flap and, once dry, the upper board was attached in the same way. The boards were pressed in the standing press at the point of attachment between felt and boards for a strong attachment.
A new piece of brown goatskin leather was used to reback the repaired spine.
The leather was cut to size and the edges pared down. The original leather was lifted along the spine edge of the upper and lower boards, and the new spine piece was inserted in between the original leather and the pasteboard, moulded around the spine using a Teflon folder to avoid marking the wet leather, and adhered fully at the joint.
At this point the leather’s function is secondary. It provides further support, and aesthetic parity with the original material as the spine lining, endbands and board attachment already function as a single unit.
The binding before conservation.
The binding after conservation.
Overall the treatment was very successful. I was able to retain the existing sewing structure and the book spine now functions as it was intended to, thanks to the removal of the thick adhesive and repair of the spine folds. The new adhesive-free spine lining is completely reversible if necessary and, in addition to the newly sewn endbands, it will support the manuscript fully during access by scholars or when on display.
The extensive programme of conservation was generously funded by the Friends of the Chester Beatty.
The Cream of Histories is currently on display in Gift of a Lifetime: Treasures from Chester Beatty’s collection (18 Oct 2018 – 28 Apr 2019). We do hope you’ll come and see it! You can also virtually turn the pages of this magnificent manuscript at our Collections Online.