Throughout history, people have wanted to keep notes. The first notes – on clay tablets – were discovered on a field between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and are attributed to the Sumerians and Achaeans (3.000 BC).
Around 1,000 BC people in the Nile delta were already using papyrus to write on. They glued sheets together to make scrolls. Such notes (papyri) are instructions to people for their behaviour after death. It is interesting also that The Odyssey and The Iliad are written on 50 metre scrolls.
Later parchment made from animal hides started to compete with papyrus. It turned out that this writing base was much better than papyrus, because it tolerated moisture much more easily, was lighter and generally more durable. Instead of scrolls, parchment started to be sewn in sections, which were the first precursors of our books. It was also important that it was possible for the first time to use the parchment as a writing base on both sides, which wasn’t possible with papyrus.
Parchment became the most widespread writing base in Europe from the 4th century AD onwards, and the most beautiful books of all time, including richly illustrated manuscripts, date from that era.
The production of a paper-like writing base started in China, around the first century AD, but they were aware that paper had many advantages over all other writing mediums and, for this reason, the method of making it was kept secret. That is why is this invention took a good thousand years to reach Europe. The first paper makers appeared in Europe only in the 13th century – they made paper from used rags. The technology of paper sizing was later also developed in Italy and made paper that could be used on both sides, whereas the Chinese method produced a material more like blotting paper and could only be used on one side.
When Gutenberg first started printing, he used parchment but then switched to paper as he found it performed much better. From the 15th century onwards books were made from paper and this made the books easier to bind. The first paper covers were made from waste sheets glued together with gelatine. The most beautifully printed books date from this period and the rare examples that survive are called incunabla.
Later (in the 19th century) it was discovered that paper could also be produced from wood cellulose.
It is also important to note the type of ink used. For the first books printed by Gutenberg in 1.450 onwards, the inks used had a basis of soot and this ink stood the test of time. Tannin ink was better for writing on parchment as it contains a lot of fat and is easily absorbed in parchment, but this ink, with its mix of acid and iron ions, attacks cellulose and thus causes much damage to paper.
Such inks were used from the Middle Ages until the beginning of 20th century by masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Johan Sebastian Bach, Galileo Galilei, Rembrandt,… The worst thing of all was that the use of this ink was prescribed by law, especially for archival records and so a vast number of these were written in this corrosive ink, thus endangering these records for future generations of readers and scholars.
The company ARC Group s.r.l., with the help of different publishers across the world, tries to preserve the legacy of notes, above all of old books.
To produce such facsimile editions we use a combination of high technology and the manual skill of our experienced craftsmen. With their manual skill and many years of experience, we aim to get so close to the original, that the human eye cannot distinguish the original from the facsimile.
Usually the original must be taken apart, so that our technicians can ascertain its condition.
The photographic reproduction is always made in the location of the original and we have a mobile laboratory to enable this.
Reproduction is critical, so that we match the original pictures as closely as possible. Our technicians also try to match the type of paper that was used in the original. We achieve this by working closely with papermakers.
We make special dies for every page separately, which enable the blocking in metallic foils. We then make blueprints for further comparison page by page with the original. Printing only takes place after the checking and corrections and the printing uses stochastic screening, giving the finest possible screen.
When the blocks are sewn, the edges are gilded by hand. The book block is then glued into the cases, which are made from wood covered with leather, silk or another kind of precious material. Cases are made by hand and many are blocked in gold or silver foil. Endpapers are most often of precious but durable materials.
In some cases books are then wrapped in a silk dust jacket. In these cases we use the oldest laboratory in Italy – Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio-Firenze.
Specialists from Florence check the original in detail and determine the quality of silk, colours and manner of weaving. When all the details are determined, they do a weaving test and only when we are satisfied that we can match the original, do we proceed with production. All weaving is performed on a manual loom from the middle of 18th century.
When the book is finished, it is then inserted in a special box, usually made from lasting materials, for the protection of the book.