Farsons Foundation helps the Notarial Archives preserve 16th century tomes

The Notarial Archives gets financial boost from Farsons Foundation towards conservation of 16th century volumes belonging to Notary Giuliano Briffa

One of the volumes belonging to Notary Giuliano Briffa (active 1570 and 1596)
One of the volumes belonging to Notary Giuliano Briffa (active 1570 and 1596)

Among many priceless treasures in its collection, the Notarial Archives in Valletta houses a number of notarial registers which have unique bindings. These volumes contain the sixteenth-century acts of Notary Giuliano Briffa. In this regard, The Farsons Foundation has initiated a collaboration with the Notarial Archives Resource Council (NARC).

Through the ‘Adopt a Notary’ scheme, The Farsons Foundation is contributing €10,000 towards the conservation and preservation of these exceptional volumes.

Notary Giuliano Briffa practised as a lawyer in Vittoriosa between 1570 and 1596 and his notarial acts are contained in 25 volumes. Since the notary was an important public figure, these acts shed important light on the laws, customs, and traditions of the society of the time.

Dr Joan Abela, President of the NARC, comments that like the majority of volumes held at the Notarial Archives, Giuliano Briffa’s acts have remained largely untapped by historians, making their preservation even more crucial for the benefit of future research. While the content of these acts is essential to historical enquiry, the volumes’ particular bindings and leather tackets seem to be indeed unique.

Dr Theresa Zammit Lupi tells us that the quire is attached to the parchment cover by leather tackets, which are externally extended. This technique gives the volume an unusual appearance because of these decorative tassel-like leather tackets that overhang from the spine area. 

When the volumes of Giuliano Briffa were compared to other bindings of volumes found at the Notarial Archives, none are remotely similar. Although Malta’s bookbinders would have presumably looked to neighbouring Sicily and Italy to borrow methods of binding, Lupi is discovering through her research by correspondence that this type of external tacketing does not seem to be found in other important archival collections such as the Vatican Secret Archives, the Archives of the Fabbrica di San Pietro in Rome, and the Archives of Palermo.

For this reason, Giuliano Briffa’s manuscripts are extremely rare and important pieces, not only for their historic content, but because they are proof of a unique aspect in the history of archival bindings in Malta.

NARC is also looking at methods for the long term preservation and storage of these manuscripts. Owing to the delicate nature of the leather tackets, it is imperative that an appropriate storage system is practised since putting the manuscripts in boxes would risk crushing the spines and the precious tackets attached to them.

NARC is looking at alternative housing by shelving the volumes behind UV filtering glass where they would be safely stored and showcased to the public. The conservation of these volumes sponsored by The Farsons Foundation requires extensive repairs of the paper and the original cover and will be carried out using the highest quality conservation grade materials and following current international practice and work ethic.

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