Guildhall exhibition reads more into historic books

never judge a book by its cover: a 15th-century manuscript, with an illuminated figure of an owl, used to cover 16th century printed book of mediations by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux Photo by Andrew Buckingham

Guildhall Library might be home to more than 200,000 titles dating back to the 15th century, but its new exhibition will look at examples of books taking interesting roles beyond just plain old reading material.

Books: Used and Abused poses the question ‘When is a book not a book?’ and explains what happens when books are customised, decorated or disguised to serve a secondary purpose.

Opening on 15 January, the exhibition will look at how and why older books are more likely to have been altered in an unusual or thoughtful way, taking on the form or notepads, expanding files, containers, and even boxes.

Visitors can also present ‘used and abused’ examples from their own collections for a free book surgery advice session next month with an expert conservator and one of the exhibition’s curators.

Graham Packham, chairman of the City of London Corporation’s culture, heritage and libraries committee, which manages the Guildhall Library, said the exhibition is an expansion of last year’s display with previously unseen items.

“Whether they’ve been decorated, written in, or hollowed out, the books featured in Used and Abused will provide a fascinating insight into what happens when a book is used in a new or unexpected way,” he said.

“For those of us who have well-loved books in various states of disrepair on our shelves or in our lofts, the book surgery in February will provide the ideal opportunity to find out how to repair them or stop from falling to

Used and Abused is on at Guildhall Library from 15 January to 9 March.
The free advice session will be held on 22 February from 2pm to 3pm. Booking is required.