spine repair

Book Conservation: Atlas de L'Europe Militaire, 1880

One of the challenges of rare book conservation is that books are composite items that can contain many materials, including paper, cloth, thread, board, leather, and various media. The combination of materials and the mechanical action necessary to use a book create problems and damages; a conservator skilled in the conservation of both paper and bound volumes is uniquely qualified to repair and restore rare books.

1880 Atlas needing repair
Atlas Militaire 1880

This delicate item, Atlas de L'Europe Militaire, 1880, recently came through our studio needing repairs to both the binding and the fold-out maps inside. Maps in books are quite often found in disrepair; due to the nature of folding and unfolding tears are very common, as well extra creases and soiling along folds and edges. Rough handling of the oversize volume had also caused some damage to the cloth spine.

Large fold-out map with tears and breaks.

Large fold-out map with tears and breaks.

Repairs to the maps involved lining up and repairing the tears with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. Fills were also made to replace lost areas of paper.

Preparing to repair tears with Japanese tissue. 

Preparing to repair tears with Japanese tissue. 

Fold-out map torn along creases.

Fold-out map torn along creases.

The map is repaired and properly folded.

The map is repaired and properly folded.

Next, repairs to the cloth spine were performed using Japanese paper toned to match the colour of the original binding material. Repairs were executed on the spine and both endcaps where the cloth had frayed and torn, stabilizing the back of the book.

Damaged cloth spine.

Damaged cloth spine.

The spine of the book is repaired.

The spine of the book is repaired.

The finished atlas.

The finished atlas.

These repairs have brought a ragged rare book back to a tidy and stable condition, allowing the binding and maps to be safely handled and enjoyed.  If you have similar rare or antiquarian books you are interested in having restored, get in touch with us today.

Repair of an 18th century Half-Leather Bound Book

Love in a Village , 1787, a half-leather bound volume with both boards off.

Love in a Village, 1787, a half-leather bound volume with both boards off.

This lovely little volume, Love in a Village: A Comic Opera, published in 1787, came in with both the front and back covers detached. This is a very common type of damage on old and rare books; use and handling can weaken the leather at the joints over time, and eventually they give way entirely.

Both the front and back covers were detached on the volume.

Both the front and back covers were detached on the volume.

In addition the endcaps at both head and tail of the book were missing. The repair entailed reattaching the boards and reconstructing the endcaps, using primarily toned Japanese paper.

Preparing to lift the leather for reattachment.

Preparing to lift the leather for reattachment.

Japanese paper is a handmade mulberry paper frequently used by conservators for strong yet flexible repairs. The long fibres of the plant material used to make the paper provide great strength, making it perfect for a repair such as reattaching a light board joint. The cover is small and light enough that the paper alone is strong enough to attach the board and withstand gentle use. The thin paper can slide underneath the original leather without causing any extra bulk.

Japanese paper is a strong yet flexible material for performing repairs.

Japanese paper is a strong yet flexible material for performing repairs.

Toned Japanese paper is used to reconstruct the endcap of the book.

Toned Japanese paper is used to reconstruct the endcap of the book.

After treatment, the boards are back in place, the inside joints also covered with Japanese paper, and the covers can be opened and closed gently - the book is usable again. It is always satisfying to return an attractive rare volume to a usable condition. 

The repaired joint of the front cover.

The repaired joint of the front cover.

The joint is repaired from the inside as well. The front free end paper features some very elegant notations by a previous owner.

The joint is repaired from the inside as well. The front free end paper features some very elegant notations by a previous owner.

Conservation Treatment of a Japanese-style Bookbinding

Son Altesse La Femme , Paris, 1885 Japanese style book with covering case. The joints of the case are split and the ribbons frayed.

Son Altesse La Femme, Paris, 1885 Japanese style book with covering case. The joints of the case are split and the ribbons frayed.

Rare and valuable books often come through our studio needing just a little bit of TLC. Excessive handling can cause the joints of covers to break down, cloth of bindings to fray, or preliminary pages to come loose. The more the book is used, the worse the damage will become, so it is wise to have it conserved sooner rather than later; repairs can stabilize a book so that it can receive gentle handling without risking more damage. 

The case, separate from the text block, has broken along the joints.

The case, separate from the text block, has broken along the joints.

This interesting item, Son Altesse La Femme, published in Paris in 1885, is scarce with its hardcover covering case; it is usually found in its paper wraps alone. The Japanese style case of this particular book had suffered the usual damage of broken joints and wear to spine and headcaps. The cover was in two pieces and the ribbons fraying.

Japanese paper repairs in progress.

Japanese paper repairs in progress.

Repairing the spine label ribbon.

Repairing the spine label ribbon.

Repairs to the joints were completed using toned Japanese paper and wheat starch paste, a stable, reversible adhesive favoured by most conservators. Further, some touch-ups were applied to the abrasions on the case.

After Treatment - the joint of the case is repaired.

After Treatment - the joint of the case is repaired.

The book in its case now is restored to a stable and aesthetically pleasing condition. It is strong enough to be handled, and the damage no longer detracts from the overall item. The book has been returned to its owner with many more years of life in it.

After Treatment - the inside of the case is intact once more.

After Treatment - the inside of the case is intact once more.