Cuttings and Leaves
Most of the items that were exhibited in the physical exhibition in 2009 are leaves that have been cut from books. The practice of cutting pieces or entire pages from books dates back to the Middle Ages—sometimes books would become useless owing to a change in liturgy or practice and the leaves would be used for scrap, as parchment was costly and labor-intensive to make. Cutting pieces and leaves from manuscripts and selling them for profit became popular after a sale at Christie’s auction house in London by Luigi Celotti in 1825: manuscripts in the Sistine Chapel had been plundered by Napoleon’s troops and cut into small pieces to be sold for profit.
Large choir books in particular were subject to being pulled apart and cut into pieces: for one thing, the sizes of the historiated initials in choir books lent themselves well to cuttings, as one initial can be almost the size of a standard piece of printer paper. Additionally, large choir books were heavy and unwieldy: the cost of shipping and taxes on books of that size were high at the time of Lewis’s collecting days.