This winter Senior Conservator Dan Gamble has been conserving and researching artifacts associated with early modern European books. Twenty years of excavations at the James Fort site have yielded over one hundred pieces of book hardware. These artifacts were made from copper alloy and represent both functional and ornamental components that had once been attached to books. Book hardware begins to show up during the 14th century in Europe and was still in use in the early 17th century when the colonists arrived at Jamestown.
The types of book hardware found at Jamestown include numerous book clasps and catch plates and one book boss. Many of these artifacts are adorned with distinct designs that may help to trace what type of book they had originated on. In general book hardware was used on books ranging from bibles, devotional books, medical books, travel books, and husbandry books among others. Dan is working with a specialist in Germany, George Adler, on book hardware in Europe to track down information about the Jamestown finds. Already one image Dan sent to George has come back as a piece consistent with a 16th-century style book clasp.
Some of the book hardware from James Fort’s early archaeological contexts may relate to the library lost by the first reverend at Jamestown, Robert Hunt, during a fire that consumed the majority of the fort in early January of 1608. Captain John Smith tells us that, “Master Hunt our preacher lost all his library and all he had but the clothes on his back, yet none never heard him repine at his loss.” Other colonists would have had books at Jamestown as well, and Dan is hoping to zero in on what these books may have been.