Exhibit Introduction:

“For, if he does not put each thing in its own place, he will find himself in great trouble and confusion as to all his affairs.”

                -- Luca Pacioli, About Accounts and Other Writings,” 1494.

In 1974, the University of Kansas Libraries acquired a remarkable collection of bound business manuscripts from the Orsetti family of Lucca, in present-day Tuscany, Italy. Containing 294 bound volumes; 84 individual, hand-drawn maps; and five boxes of unbound accounting and family records, the Rubinstein Collection, as it is now called, comprises a rich archive of business accounts and legal documents of the Orsetti family’s commercial enterprises of agriculture, real estate, and textiles, as well as personal expenses. The collection of account books, business letters, legal documents, and inventories spans the late 12th century to the early 19th century, with the heaviest concentration dating from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Most volumes are bound in the Italian stationery account book style, developed to lie flat when open, allowing the pages to be easily written on. The types of books in this collection generally follow the recommendations of Franciscan friar Luca Pacioli, who in 1494 published an influential description of the double-entry accounting system to keep “each thing in its own place.” Pacioli recommended different types of books for different accounting purposes, and that practice is reflected in the Rubinstein Collection.

In addition to serving as an example of accounting practices in early modern Italy, the collection provides a rare opportunity to study bookbinding attributes from one family’s archive over centuries. From January to June 2022, I was awarded a sabbatical leave to study the bindings in the Rubinstein Collection. In this exhibit, I share some of the findings of that research, including the history of the Orsetti family, the types of account books typically found in an Italian family business archive, and how various attributes of these bindings serve their functions. A University of Kansas General Research Fund grant provided funds for raw materials to create bookbinding models to further understand how the books were constructed. Some of the models are also shared in this exhibit.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services
August 2022