Friday, 12 December 2014

Conserving the Works of Cicero

 These two large leather bound books from 1534 were part of a collection of four similar bindings from the Royal College of Physicians. The books both have wooden boards with blind tooling and straps with metal clasps to hold the boards firmly around the textblock. The texts have been annotated by hand. They were both in poor condition, having previously been rebound in a weak leather which had failed and left the boards detached and the textblocks exposed to damage.

 The aim of the project was to stabilise the volumes, allowing them to be handled and read, while keeping the 16th Century features in tact. As the two volumes, and their treatment, were very similar I shall write about them together.

 As the reback was of poor quality and of a later date, this leather was removed from the spine and the detached boards, after carefully photographing the tooling to recreate later. The remaining leather was then consolidated using Cellugel.


 The non-original endpapers were removed and the pastedowns were humidified using sympatex and damp blotting paper (being careful to avoid any contact with the leather as this would cause darkening). They were then lifted and discarded, and beneath were revealed the original pastedowns below with indications of graphite inscriptions.

 The spines were poulticed using 10% sodium carboxymethyl cellulose to remove the old linings and adhesive residue, being careful of the sewing on the double leather thongs as it can be easily damaged. The spines were then lined with Japanese paper.

 Repairs were made to the pages at the front and back of the textblock, with creases being locally humidified and flattened. The sewing supports were extended using frayed out cord and wheat starch paste, and the loose textblock pages and new endpapers of broadsheet 115gsm were sewn in. The endpapers were guarded with Japanese paper to provided extra strength. 

 Two tone endbands were sewn at head and tail using polyester Gutermann threads. Aerocotton was then added to the spine with extensions to reattach the boards. This was added after the endbands were sewn as it is very tough to sew through on such a large book. Two layers of Hahnemuhle paper were then added to the spine and sanded down to create a (roughly!) smooth surface.

 The boards were reattached using the aerocotton extensions with EVA, and the frayed out cord extensions. This provided a strong attachment and a nice movement of the board.

 A strip of museum board was used as a compensation strip and adhered to the board using EVA. The archival calf leather for the reback was toned with Selladerm dyes and fixed with tintofix. The leather was then pared, which took a while as it was quite thick. The books were then rebacked using WSP, wrapped with bandages and left to dry overnight.

 The book straps had pin catch fastenings, and consisted of a strip of parchment, which had been recovered in leather at a later date. The leather had deteriorated, and several had broken in half. The straps were held to the board with tacks (not original) through a metal anchor plate. Using a spatula as a lever, it was possible to ease these and the tacks from the boards, and then work to free the straps from beneath the leather cover. The remaining old leather was scraped off, and a strip of parchment was cut to the same size as the original, beveled at one end in order to slip beneath the clasp. This was then sanded lightly on one side to aid the adhesion with EVA. These were then pressed and left to dry overnight. Toned archival calf leather was then pared thinly and readhered to the straps with WSP, butting up the leather with the edge of the clasp as it was too thick to go beneath the metal fastening. These were again left to dry. Then the clasps were carefully positioned and reattached using new brass tacks hammered through the boards. The tips of the tacks came through the boards, and the tips were knocked over to secure the tacks in place. The pastedowns were then put down above the tack tips.

 Lizzie added blind tooling to the spines, and the bindings were complete. The books were both to be displayed in the library and so bookshoes were made to provide protection and support the heavy textblocks.

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