Monday, May 10, 2010

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To - Breviary Edition

Among all my prized books, there stand a few which are indeed the oldest but the most beautiful specimens of their kinds. They are unmatched today even in the most expensive printings. Today we are going to look at an old 1958 Breviarium Romanum - pars Autumnalis I picked up while I was doing my catechesis to become a Catholic.

This breviary must have been magnificent when it was new. No doubt today it would go for over $100 per volume, newly minted.

Around the top and bottom of the spine there is a little wear. But the cover has remained soft and supple. It has dried out just a little.

Take a look at the gilding. Nobody does it like this anymore except specialty binders and printers.

Some of you may never have seen "red under gold" edge gilding before. It used to be standard. I have an old Confraternity Bible (1954) that also has it. The gilding doesn't flake off when you touch it, by the way. I bet I could take sandpaper to it. (I wouldn't dare...)

You can see the red/gold difference in this picture well.

The book on top is the 2007 printing of the Monastic Diurnal. A great book with a fine leather cover by today's standards. Below is the 1958 Breviarium Romanum. See what I mean?

Notice how incredibly tight the binding is on the Breviarium. Its like it hasn't budged in 50 years. Incredible.

(Just to compare, the recent Diurnale Romanum reprint from PCP)

The typesetting is unsurpassed. Look at how majestic the text is as it appears on the page. The spacing, font, and text distribution is wonderful.

Single column Psalm setting. Unfortunately it is the Pius XII Psalter. But we like the single column setting.

Some older breviaries had secret compartments for the Magnificat and Benedictus cards. This one is a good example of that.

My dog Sophie agrees with everything I write on this blog. She loves the 1958 Breviarium Romanum too.


The Golden Monstrance said...

I agree with the dog lol I like your breviary and I am going to storm every thrift store I know so I can find real treasures..unfortunately we have very few thrift stores that sells Catholic books..How much is the breviary when you bought it?

I like your site so much that I am waiting for the TAN DR Bible to arrive at a local store. I am going to buy it. your site helps me a lot.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Beautiful photos. Older Catholic publishers put so much into these publications, and it really shows that they valued what they were producing. Whereas modern Catholic publishers . . .

But whenever I see a breviary from this period, I have to ask: That Pius XII Psalter . . . what on earth were they thinking? It's just insane. But then, I had the same issue with the Nova Vulgata Psalter. St. Jerome did a brilliant job. His Psalter according to the Septuagint (the one printed in older Breviaries) is a near-perfect translation of the Septuagint text of the Psalter. Christians had used it for, oh, 1300 years? And the Greek Psatler text had been in use since before the time of Christ. Oh well.

Matt said...


I think new publishers are doing their best to manage cost/quality, but things are more expensive these days and frankly most Catholics are not willing to pay the higher costs for better books.

Re the Pius XII Psalter: What were they thinking? Well I think some were thinking it would be better scholarship, others were caught up in anything "new" and were delighted, and still others wanted a break with the past, what whatever purpose. Most just went along with it but were probably annoyed.

I saw an advertisement from the 1940s on eBay once for a Pius XII era breviary that actually boasted that older priests wouldn't understand the new psalter but that young priests would. It claimed that almost every line was changed in some manner. The ad seemed to celebrate a break with the past rather than an updating for the good of the Church due to better scholarship.

The Nova Vulgata Psalter pretty much abandoned the Pius XII work and is very similar to the Clementine Vulgate.

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton