What is a facsimile?
A facsimile (lat. fac simile - "make it similar") is a reproduction of a historical valuable unique - often no longer accesible for the public - as close to the original as possible, with all available technical and mechanical means.
A real high class facsimile edition distinguishes itself by reproducing the content completely and optical identicaly and does not have to fear the comparison with the origenal. Colour fidelity, light reflectance, minor injuries, voids, rips, trimming, alignment of layers, grammage - all these and much more has to be considered, until connoisseurs and experts can talk about a successful project.
What Are Facsimiles Needed For?
Already in the early times of book creation, the main task was to preserve the intelectual treasures - written on parchment or papyrus - for the prosterity. Here the point was mostly to hold off negative environmental influences - through vermin, climatic conditions or fire. Also, it was important to the keepers of these works to avoid improper use or excessive wearing.
Had the librarians of past centuries granted access to the works for every interested party, many of the book treasures that can still be admired today, would not exist any more.
To accomodate the balancing act between the necessary protection of the valuable book treasures and the legitimate interest of broad sections of the population to get access to the art-historicaly so significant works, facsimiles are used. With the help of those reproductions - which resemble the original down to the last detail - it is possible to grant access to the broad public and the science, without inflicting damage on the centuries-old works.
Many medieval codices are kept under lock and key to slow down the continiously progressing process of desintegration. So they are no longer publically exhibited or made available for exhibits in different cities.
For the private enthusiast for medieval book art, this means, he has to - if still possible - make use of the rare opportunities to visit a public exhibition. But this opportunity he has to share with many interested people and has to be prepared for long waiting and only a short glimpse of the object. Due to the extensive preparation of the exhibits, only a single sheet can be admired, not to speak of the invisibility of the binding art. As the owner of one of the popular facsimiles, however, you have always the possibility to dedicate yourself calmy to your passion in familiar surroundings. What a privilege!
Also libraries and museum use facsimiles to protect their valuable and irreplaceable inventory of medieval codices. As mentioned above, even to experts the access to the object is often denied - not to speak of interested lays. But it is the special duty of libraries to give the public access to culture (history). To enable the never ending research of medieval illumination, libraries use the possibilities of the facsimiles. That way the access for researchers of different fields is ensured and the original is still protected.
That the protection of the old manuscripts is absolutely necessary, is sadly proven by editions like the Pamplona Picture Bible or the Black Prayerbook. To document the current conservation status and to enable later generations to do their own research, there is no way around a high-quality facsimile. Just think about the dangers of fire and collabse, which the recent German history just brought back to memory!