Behind the Books

Longtime Scripps Ranch resident and retired librarian Margit J. Smith has a passion for hand bookbinding, and specializes in restoring and repairing old and new books. She recently wrote a book called The Medieval Girdle Book, which was published this fall by Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE.

The girdle book was found between the 14th and 16th centuries – the book covers ended in a knot, hook, or ring and were hung from a belt to be worn. They could be read while still attached to the wearer’s belt. Girdle books are now extremely rare, with only 26 known examples documented in collections around the world. Margit’s The Medieval Girdle Book is a detailed analysis of these 26 works, which cover a range of topics from religion and philosophy to law and medicine. Margit’s analysis includes historical context, provenance, and the known owners or institutions for each book, as well as describing the documents from a bookbinder’s perspective.

“This is the first book describing these rarest books in detail as to their history and the binding style.” 

“This is the first book describing these rarest books in detail as to their history and the binding style,” she explained. She took many of the photographs for the project herself, and the rest are reproductions of contemporary artwork showing the girdle books as they were used at the time.

Margit has lived in Scripps Ranch for nearly 40 years. She spent nearly 20 years as head of cataloging and preservation at the Helen K. and James S. Copley Library at the University of San Diego before her retirement in 2010. Learn more about Margit and her work at independent.academia.edu/margitsmith.