History Scotland

The ledger of Andrew Halyburton

In our regular look at the holdings of National Records of Scotland, Peter Dickson spotlights a 16th-century volume that tells of strong trade connection­s between Scotland and the city of Bruges


The Ledger of Andrew Halyburton (RH9/1) is a fascinatin­g 16thcentur­y volume held in the archive of the National Records of Scotland. It is of interest both in terms of the informatio­n it contains in relation to Halyburton’s position as Conservato­r of Scottish Privileges in the Low Countries and in the physical properties displayed in its binding style.

Andrew Halyburton held the position of ‘Conservato­r of Scotch Privileges’ during the late 15th and early 16th century in the reign of James IV. This is at the tail end of a golden time for Scottish trade. Trade was primarily conducted in the city of Bruges and developed from periodic agreements whereby Scotland gave Bruges exclusive rights to purchase staples such as wool, hides, coal and lumber.

Based in the Low Countries, Halyburton was what we might consider these days a trade envoy or perhaps minister of the board of trade who was based in Bruges. Halyburton held accounts for some well-known luminaries of the time, and his ledger reveals the extent of Scottish trade with the European mainland and hence to the far east.

Within the collection­s held here in the National Records of Scotland, this volume is the oldest surviving ledger of accounts and tariff of customs.

The watermark in the paper is commonly found in the Netherland­s and is thought to belong to Phillip the Good, duke of Burgundy, although this is by no means a certainty.

The sewing structure of the ledger is of particular interest, it has been sewn on four vellum supports with sewn on secondary supports which serves both as the method of cover attachment and as a method of control over the opening of the volume. Each sewing/binding technique used in the production of this ledger complement­s the next, allowing the book to function with ease.

The ledger is bound in a limp, (no stiff boards were used on this binding) non-adhesive style. The cover is vegetable tanned leather with a vellum lining and the remains of a strap closure can be seen.

This style of binding bears little resemblanc­e to more modern spring back style ledger or account bindings from the 19th and 20th centuries, although some styling clues such as the lacings remain.

In the image to the left we can see an example of vellum tacketing and lacing. These were the techniques by which a mechanical attachment of the cover to the text block was achieved which also helps to secure the vellum lining to the leather outer cover, this reinforces the pasted lamination. This tacketing evolved into so called ‘over extra’ embellishm­ents on 19th- and 20thcentur­y ledgers

The blind tooling is also of interest. Tooling is referred to as ‘blind’ when the decoration is achieved by the intaglio effect of light and dark on the impressed leather. The relief is quite threedimen­sional and gives a dramatic decorative effect to the cover.

The patterns are different on the front and back covers.The front made up of tools of various beasts including dragons, wyverns and double-headed eagles, the back cover tooled with a crossed diamond pattern sometimes described as a monastic style.

Peter Dickson is an Archive Conservato­r at National Records of Scotland.

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