From today until the end of November, a facsimile of the 500-year-old Halyburton Ledger will be on display and free to view at General Register House.  

Ahead of his free talk about the Ledger this Friday, NRS Conservator Peter Dickson tells us how he made a facsimile of the volume and what he learned about this historical book-binding process.  

Halyburton Ledger 1
The original Ledger of Andrew Halyburton, the 15th century conservator of the privileges of the ‘Scotch nation in the Low Countries’. (NRS Ref: RH9/1)

Andrew Halyburton was a trade envoy during the reign of James IV who held the position of ‘Conservator of Scotch Privileges in the Low Countries’ in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. National Records of Scotland holds his ledger of accounts and tariff of customs in our archives.

As part of the conservation work I carried out on The Halyburton Ledger to repair and preserve it for the future, I produced a facsimile of the volume, which helped me to gain first-hand knowledge of its dynamics.

By studying and copying each step and stage of a particular style of binding, I hoped to learn how individual techniques combine and work together.

Due to its age and condition, the original Halyburton Ledger has now become too weak to be handled regularly. All conservation treatments I carried out on it were in part an effort to stabilise the remaining binding, which seems to be contemporary.

This is what would at the time have been known as a ‘vellum binding’, a term that was applied to books sewed on vellum supports or covered with vellum.

Halyburton Ledger 2
Detail of the original binding and sewing of the Halyburton Ledger. Note the thick leather sewing supports tied onto the primary vellum supports.
Halyburton Ledger 3
The facsimile, with detail of sewing supports and cover attachement.
Halyburton Ledger 4
A modern account book. In the late 18th century, we see the invention of the spring-back, which serves to push the spine of a book up as it is opened, allowing a reasonably flat writing surface to be presented to a scribe.  This image shows a typical spring-back account book with “extra” over-bands attached, with lacings which are redolent of the lacings on medieval ledgers.

The facsimile volume was primarily sewed on vellum sewing supports using a link stitch which consolidates the sewing and keeps tension regular throughout the volume. It also keeps the sections attached mechanically at both the kettle stitches and each sewing station.

The sewing then has thick leather secondary supports lashed round the primary vellum supports as part of the cover attachment mechanism. They limit the free opening of the volume, although it’s uncertain whether this was by design.

Halyburton Ledger 5
Watermark from the book, commonly used in Netherlands

The cover has been made up from vegetable tanned leather lined with goatskin parchment. The lacing you can see on the front and on the spine of the cover helps with the stability of this lamination. The five twisted tackets – lengths of vellum or parchment which are pasted and twisted to form thick and strong cords – on each of the over-bands are where the cover is attached to the thick secondary sewing supports.

The cover is attached by passing the twisted vellum cords under each of the primary and secondary supports, then through pre-made holes in the cover and over-bands. This leaves two prongs of twisted vellum cord poking through to the outside of the cover. These prongs are then twisted firmly together to complete the binding process.

You can learn more about the work of Conservation Services Branch at the NRS website.


Halyburton Ledger 6
Front cover. Cross stitches lacings are supporting the lamination of the vegetable tanned leather to its vellum lining.
Halyburton Ledger 7
Spine detail. The cross stitched lacing holds the cover laminations together, distinct from the overband with the five twisted tackets holding the cover to the book block.

If you’d like to find out more about the Halyburton Ledger, about my work on this facsimile or about NRS’s conservation work, you can book your place at my free talk on 23 November here.

Peter Dickson


National Records of Scotland


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