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Rare ‘Book of Hours’ Returns Home

Photo by Maureen Zambito View one of the most valuable books in the area, “Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis,” or “Book of Hours,” dating to 1480 and including 110 fine vellum leaves, which returned to Elbin Library recently after restoration and can be seen on Nov. 7 at the WLU Downtown Center.

One of the most valuable books in the area returned home recently to West Liberty University’s Elbin Library after restoration performed by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) in Philadelphia.

The 15th century illuminated “Book of Hours” is a Dutch manuscript elegantly decorated with Gothic lettering and gold decorations on vellum. Devotional prayer books like these became popular in the Middle Ages and were considered a status symbol since only a rich person could hope to own one at the time.

“This is a complete book, donated by former professor Nelle Krise, who died in 1981, and we are proud to have it in our collection. The ‘Book of Hours’ would have been made one at a time as a prayer book, completely by hand,” said Librarian Katy Zane, who has been with the Elbin Library for two years.

The restoration was initiated by former library director, now retired, Cheryl Harshman who was responsible for beginning the project last January.

An English professor for 40 years, Krise was a serious collector of books and a popular professor. Krise Residential Hall is named after her.

The valuable illuminated manuscript will be showcased and shared at a reception open to the public from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7 at the WLU Downtown Center, located at 1310 Market St., Wheeling.

“We are pleased to host this event and share this treasure with the public, and we are grateful to donor Jeremy McCamic, who made the lead contribution to fund the restoration,” said Angela Zambito-Hill, executive director of the WLU Foundation.

“What makes this copy so special is the gold and colorful pigments that were used and the fact that it’s a complete book that came through the Netherlands, rather than France,” Zane noted.

Other rarities from the Nelle Krise Rare Book Room will be on hand as well including an example of “Justinian Code,” an inkunabula (print rather than manuscript book dating to pre-1501) in framed glass and choir music from the 16th century.

“These treasures from our rare book collection are amazing and I believe people will be surprised when they see them,” Zane added.

Zane drove to Philadelphia to retrieve the restored “Book of Hours” this past August. It was with the experts since January and much of the work involved rebinding it with the original leather and binding materials that had deteriorated over the years.

The parchment leaves were lightly surface cleaned, and vulnerable spine folds were mended with mulberry paper and gelatin. The sheets were resewn with unbleached linen thread. Once resewn, the boards were attached, the volume was rebacked with acrylic-toned cotton textile, and the original spine was readhered over the new cloth, according to a detailed description posted on the CCAHA website.

“The restoration was very successful. I drove very carefully with a seatbelt around the packing box that held the custom-sized clamshell box provided by the CCAHA to store the book,” she added. Zane recently earned a Certificate of Advance Study in archives and used the antique book and the rare book room for her practicum work.

WLU has purchased a new safe that will be mounted to the floor, to ensure the antique book’s safety for future book lovers.

The “Book of Hours” will return to the Elbin Library after the Nov. 7 showing and will then be available for viewing by appointment only.

“Any visitor can ask at the desk to view the book and if at all possible, we will be happy to comply with the request,” Zane said.

The library collection features over 250,000 items in print, audio, and video formats, along with the Nelle M. Krise Rare Book Collection and The Henry Lash Sheet Music Collection.

For more information on attending the Book of Hours reception, please contact the WLU Foundation at 304-336-5635.

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@hotmail.com or by writing in care of the Sunday News-Register, 1500 Main St., Wheeling, WV 26003.

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