Pieces of Our Past

August 8, 2014


Artifact: Pest-Damaged Luther’s Works


Size: 11.25 x 7.5 x 3.25 inches

Date: 1553

Significance: Many people wonder what makes archives so important, and this book is an excellent example. Many things can damage books and paper manuscripts if they are not cared for properly, including pests (insects and mice), water, fire, humidity or lack thereof, and even light. This book, the 6th volume of the 1552 Wittenberg edition of Luther’s Works, shows signs of insect, mouse and water damage. (Note: This book came to CHI in this condition. No correspondence was found regarding why it was accessioned when it was in such disrepair, but perhaps it was kept to be used as an educational tool on the importance of preservation, a role which the book continues to serve on behind-the-scenes tours of CHI.)

Types of Damage:
The most prominent damage seen immediately is the large hole in the center. The book was likely a nest for mice at one time. The hole goes almost entirely through the book. Also seen are small holes on the cover, mostly around the edges of the hole. This is evidence of insect damage, likely caused by silverfish, which is one of the kinds of insects referred to when hearing the term “bookworm.” (Other common insects that cause damage by eating the protein and starch components in books include roaches and various types of beetles.)

Another example of insect damage, likely silverfish, can be seen in the photographs below of Ein Brief D. Mart. Luthers Von den Schleichern und Winckel predigern (Luther’s “Concerning the Infiltrating and Clandestine Preachers”) from 1532. The majority of these small holes go entirely through the pamphlet so that one can see through the other side.

The third type of damage seen in the volume of Luther’s Works was caused by water. The cover was deformed and has a prominent wave. It is entirely possible that the water damage happened first, which created a damp, dark place for the silverfish to enjoy, and then the insect damage compromised the cover enough to allow the book to become a nice nest for mice.

Both of the paper items shown in the photographs demonstrate the importance of having archives for preserving our Lutheran history—a location that is not only temperature and humidity controlled, but also has a pest management policy.

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