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Subject: J.A. Szirmai

J.A. Szirmai

From: Margit J. Smith <mjps>
Date: Friday, June 2, 2006
    On the Occasion of the 80th Birthday of J.A. Szirmai in 2005 By
    Gerd Brinkhus  (Universitatsbibliothek, Tubingen)
    translated by Margit J. Smith (University of San Diego)

    Because of health issues J.A. Szirmai has withdrawn more and
    more in recent years from the public eye in the area of
    bookbinding research. His Archaeology of Mediaeval Bookbinding,
    published in 1999, has in the meantime become indispensable for
    anyone doing research into bookbinding.  It has provided a focus
    for technical details and the development of western bookbinding
    techniques. His recommendations have stimulated continued
    research, and his methodological explanations have borne
    fruit.(1)  As instructor, e.g. in Ascona and Stuttgart, he was
    always effective in engaging and challenging the participants in
    his courses to exceptional work of the highest quality.

    The use of precise terminology as a prerequisite to assure and
    facilitate correct communication plays a large part in his
    work.(2) We often debated matters and it was sometimes difficult
    to obtain his agreement to a compromise. The idea to use a
    conservation binding, instead of resorting to a complete
    reconstruction to replace a destroyed original binding, was the
    result of one of these discussions. In the meantime this
    procedure has become a widespread practice in restoration

    J.A. Szirmai is not a pure theoretician.  After his career as
    Professor of Medicine he learned the techniques of bookbinding
    and made a name for himself as artisan-bookbinder. The Royal
    Library in The Hague has acquired several of his bindings for
    its bookbinding collection. In his view contemporary 'designer
    bindings' occupy a very different niche than what was
    traditionally understood under the 'medieval art of

    I first met him more than 25 years ago and still remember how
    fascinated I was in the first few minutes of our meeting by his
    profound knowledge and by the matter-of-fact fashion in which he
    shared this knowledge.  Right then we became allies in striving
    to save original medieval bookbindings. The challenge to keepers
    of books and restorers(4) not to consider historical bindings as
    mere carriers of stamped decorations that could be transferred
    in more or less the same fashion with the leather to new
    bindings, but to consider them in their totality as carriers of
    technique and design that must be retained unchanged in their
    completeness, led to frequent meetings in which we attempted to
    affect a fundamental change in the concept of book restoration.
    Here also his impetus has had its effect.(5)

    On the occasion of his 80th birthday on March 18, 2005 I wish to
    recognize him as the tireless champion he has become of
    bookbindings--past and present.  I am certain that many
    colleagues will join me in gratitude by congratulating him and
    wishing him only the best.

    Gerd Brinkhus


        1.  See, for example, the work of Irmhild Schaefer:
            Buchherstellung im fruehen Mittelalter. Die
            Einbandtechnik in Freising. Wiesbaden,1999. Or the
            dissertation by Agnes Scholla which is discussed in this

        2.  Exemplary as basis for German terminology is his
            cooperation on "Kneep en Binding", the attempt of a
            terminology by the Belgisch-Nederlands

        3.  J. A. Szirmai: "Zur Kritik der Einbandkunst". In:
            Bindereport 94 (1981), p. 697-705.

        4   J. A. Szirmai: "Stop destroying ancient bindings." In:
            Gazette du livre medievale, no. 13 (Fall 1988), p. 7-9.
            Also in Abbey Newsletter 13 (1989), p. 86, under the
            title: "Zur Zerstoerung alter Einbaende - Ein Appell",
            in: Restauro (1990), p. 171-172.

        5.  See for example: "Blaubeurener Empfehlungen.
            Empfehlungen fuer die Restaurierung und Konservierung
            von Archiv- und Bibliotheksgut". In: Bestandserhaltung
            in Archiven und Bibliotheken. Hrsg. Von Hartmut Weber,
            Stuttgart, 1992, p. 157-170.

Margit J. Smith, Assoc. Prof.
Head of Cataloging and Preservation
Copley Library, University of San Diego
Fax: 619-260-7633

                  Conservation DistList Instance 19:59
                 Distributed: Wednesday, June 14, 2006
                       Message Id: cdl-19-59-001
Received on Friday, 2 June, 2006

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