Congdon (2023 Congress)

Eleanor A. Congdon
(Youngstown State University)

“Covers of the Account Books in the Datini Collection:
Binding Information Together”

Abstract of Paper
presented at the 57th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2023)

Session on “Bound But Not Gagged: The Eloquence of Medieval Book Bindings”
Part 2 (of 2):  “Diverse Regional Techniques”

Organized by William H. Campbell
Co-organized by Mildred Budny

Co-Sponsored by the RGME and
the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS)

2023 Congress Program



The archive of Francesco di Marco Datini da Prato, who lived from 1335 to 1410, is the largest collection of documents relating to a single merchant for the medieval Mediterranean. Information about the ventures for his eight offices, described in over 150,000 letters, is summarized in almost 1100 registers of various shapes and sizes. According to Chiara Marcheschi, in her article in the exhibition catalogue Paper in Motion (Prato, 2021), the accounts for the offices of Barcelona and Majorica — the ones in which I am most interested — were sent to Datini in Florence for reconciliation of errors in 1403.

This presentation will look at the covers and bindings of the registers in the Datini collection (see also Archive Datini); these are in various states of repair. Some are small enough that they have only a thin paper and leather wrapping. Others were sewed together in the manner traditional to vellum and parchment bindings. “Gatherings” of paper leafs were folded in half, then sewed together along the fold line. The thread-ends, when tied together, formed ridges across the spine. The outer layer, made of fine colored leather, was attached to the stack of pages by various methods using a paper end-sheet and glue. These registers were so large that many of the spine-assemblies could not support the number of folios included to make the volume. They are in various stages of breakage, exposing the techniques used in binding them.

This presentation will examine, and demonstrate, the variations of binding and covering used to make these volumes. I will supplement pictures taken in the Datini archive of various registers by hand-recreating versions of these techniques. I will also consider the very different spine of one volume that looks as though it was “rebound” during Datiniʼs lifetime.


We thank Eleanor for her contributions to RGME Sessions at the ICMS and our other activities.  See, for example:



Rome, Musei Capitolini, Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, Painting of the Trinity with Francesco Datini and his wife, circa 1400-1410.  Detail with Datini kneeling in prayer.Image via Creative Commons.

Rome, Musei Capitolini, Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, Painting of the Trinity with Francesco Datini and his wife, circa 1400-1410. Image via Creative Commons.