Category Archives: book restoration

Upcoming Workshop: The Conservation of Leather Bookbindings

I’m excited to be teaching this one week workshop in the fall.  It is based on the types of treatments for leather bookbindings that I use most in my own book conservation business. Emory University, the site host, has a board slotting machine which participants will be able to try out. Atlanta is a hopping city, inexpensive to fly to, great food, and the weather is usually pleasant in early November.  I will also be giving a lecture on the history of book boxes Friday November 2, if you want to spend the weekend. Please join us!

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The Conservation of Leather Bookbindings

Emory University Libraries, Atlanta, Georgia

November 5 – 9, 2018

Sponsored by the Southeast Regional Conservation Association.

In this week-long intensive workshop, students will be introduced to a wide variety of current techniques used to conserve leather bookbindings. Bookbinders, technicians, and conservators who wish to learn, expand, or refresh their treatment skills are all welcome. Previous bookbinding or conservation experience is required.

Detached boards are the most common place leather bookbindings fail, and all five primary methods of treating this will be taught: mechanical sewing extensions and tacketing, inner hinge repairs, interior-board repairs (both splitting and slotting), outer joint repairs, and several styles of rebacking. Many treatments involve a combination of these techniques. Questions concerning methods of consolidating older leather, the archival qualities of modern leather, and leather dyes will be discussed. A variety of methods to pare, consolidate, and lift leather will be introduced. Since a sharp knife is crucial to success in any leather work, sharpening will also be taught.

Students should bring six to eight non-valuable leather bound books to work on, though there will be additional books provided to practice with. Participants will be taught how to pare leather with a knife, use a board slotting machine, a modified 151 spokeshave, a variety of lifting knives and tools, and a double edge razor blade paring machine. There will be individual consultations with students before the workshop to discuss treatment goals for their chosen books, and determine if extra materials or tools might be required. Decision making based on the actual books will be discussed. The primary goal of this workshop is to equip participants with a more nuanced understanding of the pros and cons of currently practiced leather conservation techniques, gain supervised experience while performing them, and feedback when they are completed.

Application: Registration is limited. Participant selections will be made by the SERCA Board of Directors via the following order: SERCA members (new or renewing), practicing conservators in the Southeast, and other qualified applicants. Applications are due Friday September 14th, 2018.

Please send your resume and one paragraph stating why this workshop would be useful in your conservation career to: Kim Norman, Head of Library Conservation at Emory University (kim.norman@emory.edu)

Cost: $900 for existing SERCA members, $925 (including $25.00 SERCA annual membership fee https://sercaconservation.org/membership/) for new and renewing SERCA members. Payment taken after review of applications.

Ngrams: Book Conservation, Art Conservation, Book Restoration, Art Restoration

An N-gram is a continuous series of letters or words. In linguistics, they are useful for gathering information about frequency of use. Google has an Ngram tool that uses more than eight million of the texts it has scanned, which is estimated to be six percent of all books ever published. I thought it might be interesting to compare four terms: book conservation,  art conservation, book restoration, and art restoration. I selected the years 1900-2008 and added some smoothing to make the trends more clear. It is also possible to distinguish between English and American usage, though I didn’t do this.

conservation book

Larger table at Google Ngrams

A couple of things jumped out at me. The use of the term conservation essentially overtook the term restoration in the mid-1970’s, which also roughly correlates with the beginning of professionalism in the field: the founding of the American Institute for Conservation (1972), journals, graduate schools, conferences, etc….

We see a peak in book conservation in the mid-1980’s.  The Columbia University Library and Archives program was in full swing and grant money was plentiful. Microfilming was still the dominant method of reformatting. Book conservation, along with book restoration, has declined precipitously since this time.

The term book conservation gets used roughly 25% as much as art conservation in 2008. It also seems to be on a bit of an upswing.

For a short time in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, book restoration was even more popular than art conservation. I’m not quite sure what explains this, the Florence Flood? Chance?

It is debatable exactly how the frequency of these terms used in publications reflects the growth, size and public perception of the field. They also likely bear little resemblance to the actual practice of restoration and conservation.  Additionally, I think journal articles are not included, as well as online sources, which might change things dramatically.

My gut feeling, though, is that this graph roughly mirrors the popularity, size and funding for book conservation, which has declined significantly over the past 25 years. Art conservation seems to have declined less, but still significantly since 2000. But the frequency of these terms is still about half of the peak. It has often been noted that creating a written body of literature for book conservation is a necessary step towards professionalism and even some kind of certification in the United States, which currently does not exist.  Are we farther away from that goal now than we were in 1985?

Ngrams can be a pleasant time sink serious tool for the statistical analysis of use frequency patterns. Finally, we can answer such crucial questions as were The Beatles more popular than Jesus Christ?

Bathroom Book Restoration

Washing

Text block washing, old school. The binder has a curious expression, a mix of intense concentration, shock and self conscious posing.  Courtesy Anonymous Bookbinder

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The back of the above photo. Courtesy Anonymous Bookbinder

A Bookbinding is not a Picture Frame

“In point of fact, a stack of printed or handwritten sheets of paper does not become a book until it is bound. For this reason the binding cannot be seen apart from the book and differs therefore from the picture frame, with which it is sometimes compared but in which there is seldom any structural parallel with painting.” Jan Storm van Leeuwen [1]

Thinking of a book’s binding as something independent from “the book” as an entirety is a serious misconception. This raises some practical concerns:  if a book has been disbound, and perhaps remains disbound for the purposes of display, is it no longer a book? Does it now belong in a special category of the book; a disbound book? [2]   Much descriptive terminology adds similar qualifiers; an unbound book, a rebound book, etc…. A work of art remains a work of art if it is in its frame or not.  A textblock cannot just be taken out of its binding without radically altering its ontological status as a book.

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[1] Jan Storm van Leeuwen. Dutch Decorated Bookbinding in the Eighteenth Century, Volume 1: General Historical Introduction. Den Haag: Hes & De Graff, 2006. p. 41.

[2] The extreme of this might be the leaf book, a new book made  to highlight a single leaf from another book. There are a number of excellent essays, including one by a lawyer/ leaf book collector who considers ethics and international law in the catalog to the exhibition Disbound and Dispersed: The Leaf Book Considered. Chicago: The Caxton Club, 2005.

Book Jack

Many forms of book wedges are available for the reading room, ranging from the familiar Clarkson foam, wood ones, as well as some newer ideas from the At the Bench blog.  There are also many options for the safe display of books.  A third need — to secure books partially open while undergoing treatment and examination — seems to have been ignored, or commonly jerry rigged with weights and pressing boards as the need arises.

I developed the in-situ book conservation fixture to securely hold a textblock open while performing page repairs, working under magnification, media consolidation, etc. It is large and heavy, and can easily accommodate parchment textblocks.

The book jack is small, lightweight, and designed for use on the workbench. It quickly and easily adjusts from 15 to 60 degrees, locks securely into place by a built in handle, and provides a more rigid support than foam. This fixture that holds the book, or boards, open in a wide variety of positions to reduce strain while performing treatments.   The small size permits it to be used inside a book to work on board edges and corners. It can also be used to support a textblock upright when rebacking or humidifying warped vellum boards, although additional weights may be necessary to stabilize it.  I use this fixture constantly, from initial examination throughout the treatment.

The natural, translucent .25 inch thick polypropylene platens are lined with an easily replaceable .0625 inch thick closed cell polyethylene foam ( aka. Volara). The adjustment mechanism is 6061 T6 aluminum and a comfort grip handle, which has a lower profile than the platens at any angle, so that relatively large books can be supported.

Item#  BJ-1 $125.00 for one, or $225.00 pair

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