Temporary Binding

temporal binding



The terminology may be debatable, but I doubt there is a simpler method of “binding” a pamphlet.  These 32 pages were printed  in 1858, and presumably the pin was inserted around that time as well.  A pin may be less damaging than a staple, since the ends of a staple turn in on themselves and often pierce the inner folio.  Both staples and pins are prone to rust, though pins are more easily reversed.  If the head of a pin is too large, it can damage the adjoining pages.  Pamphlets from this time are often side stitched in a figure of eight style, which restricts opening. Some of the horizontal creases in the paper may have happened when the pin was inserted 150 years ago.  Of course, sewing through the fold is the best method of attaching pages together.

In this case, however, the pin was not causing any apparent damage, the owner (thanks for permission to post these images!) and I decided to leave it in place.  Later, I will do some minor surface cleaning, flattening and paper repairs.

Perhaps because pins were on my mind, last weekend I purchased a box of  NOS at the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market . I was intrigued by the fact that the pins were not described as merely plated, double-plated, triple-plated, but were in fact “Superplated”.  

After opening the box  and seeing them gleam, I decided this is to be a truthful description– well worth the $2 price.

pin box


pins inside

Comments on Clarkson, Conservation and Craft

Book conservation, possibly more than any other conservation discipline, consists of a skill set that is closely linked to its craft roots. Conservators must not only be able to intellectually understand the mechanics, chemistry and history of book structure, but also need the hand skills to actually do bookbinding: performing, for example, a full treatment where a text needs to be rebound in a style sensitive and sympathetic to its structural requirements and time period. So what prompted Christopher Clarkson to write,  “European hand bookbinding practice does not form the best foundation on which to build or even graft the principles of book conservation.” (Clarkson, 1978)

 Although written 30 years ago, these words are still extremely provocative. In a very narrow interpretation, the phrase “ European hand bookbinding practice” could mean typical trade bookbinding practice, and the statement is entirely uncontroversial— not every book should be rebound and of course a 10th century manuscript should not be stuffed into a typical late 19th century trade binding! (1) But what if Clarkson is pointing towards a broader reading, establishing a dichotomy between bookbinding and book conservation, potentially even between a craft and a profession?  Given the close relationship of the two, how could they be separated?

 A few clues can be found elsewhere in the same volume of The Paper Conservator.  This issue begins with a policy statement, noting four basic purposes of publication:

“1.  To conserve the traditional crafts of conservation… .  2.  To stimulate the craftsmen to develop a methodology with which to record their techniques and experience… . 3. …extending knowledge about craft techniques in closely related fields… . 4. To assemble a reference source of craft techniques for trainee conservators.” (My italics) (McAusland, 1978)

 These multiple references to craft are perhaps even more shocking that Clarkson’s original quote, and somewhat explain his need to propose a break with the past, at least in a philosophical context.  It appears that in 1978 that book conservation was considered a craft, or at least craft was a large part of it. But professionalism was on the rise at the same time; Paul Banks was elected President of AIC in 1978 (a first for a book conservator) and his The Preservation of Library Materials was published the same year.  Did a rise in professionalism necessitate a break with craft tradition in order to escape habits, both in thought and praxis, built up over centuries?

 I am certain that if I mentioned “the craft of conservation” in 2008, I would be greeted by suspicion, jeers and critical blog posts from my peers. Today, conservators have, to a large degree, distanced themselves from that dirty little word—craft– at least in their own minds.(2)  This distancing seems to be the core message in Clarkson’s statement, as a necessary first step. In order to rationally and objectively approach a conservation treatment, it was necessary to step outside of the preconceptions of a craft tradition, and attempt to examine the book and the goals of the treatment from the outside.  Sometimes a conservation treatment might closely resemble how a bookbinder might repair a volume; sometimes it might be radically different.

 How can the craft of the bookbinding be preserved in a professional context that has struggled to escape its craft based roots? Are there dangers, however, of completely refuting the craft of bookbinding while formulating a new theory of conservation?  Almost 1,700 years of mostly unwritten craft skills have been passed on during the history of bookbinding.  Many structures and techniques have been abbreviated, forgotten and lost. Some have been rediscovered later, existing as primary evidence in book structure, or extrapolated through praxis.  A conservator could start a treatment, with no knowledge of bookbinding technique, but if the treatment was at all complex, it seems the conservator, even if ignorant of craft technique, would end up reinventing it. Maybe this is how the craft will survive.

 As books cease to be viewed as primarily a vehicle for transmitting textual information, and move closer to object-type status, I predict the physical information their materials and construction contain, and their visual appeal will become increasingly valued. (3) Paradoxically, we may have to wait until books no longer fulfill their original function (to be read) before we fully value the craft skills that created them, and then will have to rediscover those skills. 

 In another 30 years, perhaps, the field of book conservation will be mature enough to reexamine its relationship to craft. Hopefully some of the craft skills will still be present or rediscovered, and might be reincorporated into some future conception of conservation.


1.  Ironically, this style of binding, with all of its structural faults, remains the ideal of fine hand bookbinding in most of the public’s imagination. 

2. Most of the public, unfortunately, uses the terms bookbinder, master restorer and conservator interchangeably. A paramount task for conservation is to educate the public on these differences.

3.  In the past year or two, I have noticed more private collectors wanting a cradle for their book so that it can be safely displayed in their home.  



Clarkson, Christopher. “The Conservation of Early Books in Codex From: A Personal Approach: Part 1.” The Paper Conservator Vol. 3 (1978): 49.

McAusland, Jane. “Manual Techniques of Paper Repair” The Paper Conservator Vol. 3 (1978): 3

Double Down on a Torn Spine

When playing Blackjack, the simplest forms of card counting usually involves keeping a plus or minus running total.  One system, which assigns Aces, face cards and 10’s a minus one, and all others a plus one, can give the player an idea of how many aces, 10’s and face cards are left in the deck, or decks.  If the plus count gets fairly high, you should increase the size of your bets, if it is negative, decrease the size.  Card counting is legal, but Casinos will ask you to leave if they suspect you are counting.

I was intrigued to find the patent application from 2005, titled  “System and Method for Classifying Restoration of Paper Collectables.”  The abstract describes this patent as “A method of assigning a score to a restored paper collectable based on the quantity and quality of restoration procedures.”  

In many respects this system is similar to card counting– a running count is assigned to various common paper treatments, such as surface cleaning, washing, bleaching, tape removal, etc….  These treatments subtract points from the total. The extent of work and evidence of work subtract points as well. Using “benificial materials (1)”, written and photo documentation will add points.  The score starts at 100 and generally gets lower. The higher the total score the better restored (more valuable?) your artifact is. Should I hit on an eighteen?

One troubling aspect of this system is that bonus points are awarded for repairs that are so visually indistinguishable that a “device [is] needed” to detect them!  Repairs that are visually apparent at 12″ or less are given a neutral score of “0”.

Another troubling aspect of this is that it enters a gray area in the AIC Code of Ethics, especially  Commentary 2- Disclosure.  Of course, it is up to individual conservators if they join AIC (2) and if they choose to abide by the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice or not. I have chosen to do so in writing. One advantage of adhering to the Code and Guidelines is that it offers a conservator protection against lawsuits, since the treatment  follows the current accepted practice by the professional organization that represents conservators. 

The commentary recommends disclosure the formula of a patented item, but patenting a system of classification?  It seems to limit the use of this new methodology (3), except by the assignees, and does not further the professionalism in the field by demystifying conservation procedures.  Instead, does this dumb down the field by simply giving the client a quantifiable number, like a movie or restaurant review?  Maybe we should just give thumbs-up or thumbs-down when examining an artifact.   Does the attempt to quantify our examination make it seem less subjective and more scientific?    

What would Linnaeus think?




1. I wonder how this would be determined.

2.  There are many advantages to joining AIC and a speciality group, such as the Book and Paper Group (BPG) or Conservators in Private Practice (CIPP).  First, they hopefully lead to an exchange of information intended to raise the level of treatments, exchange information and increase professionalism within our field.

3.  Although from the patent description, this system seems intended more for collectors rather than conservators.  I seriously doubt that it will become widespread, but the point is if it were to become a standard means of describing an object, anyone other than the assignees would have to pay or get permission to use the system.



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