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.

Review of 18th Century French Bookbinding Workshop

Constant Lem, Book Conservator at the National Library of the Netherlands, reviewed my 18th century French Bookbinding Workshop from last summer, which I taught in the Netherlands. Constant studied Medieval History at the University of Amsterdam. In the 1980s and 1990s he worked as a bookbinder. Since 2004 he is a book conservator at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague (The National Library of the Netherlands). Constant is very interested in historic bookbinding manuals and has long been intrigued by the peculiarities of the special French tradition of leather binding.

Translation by Herre de Vries.

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The reconstruction of an eighteenth century leather ‘French’ binding with Jeff Peachey
Workshop organized by Restauratoren Nederland, May 2016
Constant Lem

Making models of historical binding structures is a source of knowledge about the old book. The best way to make such a model is by working from contemporary manuals. The oldest known sources have a Dutch origin: Beschrijvinghe des Boeckbinders Hantwerck [Description of the bookbinder’s handcraft] by Anshelmus Faust (1612) and Kort Onderweijs van het Boeckenbinden [A short instruction in the binding of books] by Dirc de Bray (1658). These manuals however are written in such a manner that they contain many unclarities to the modern reader. These can be somewhat clarified by repeated empathic reading and by studying the historical examples of the described bindings: historical bookbinding manuals are a wealthy source of knowledge about the old and rare book, but these bookbinding manuals only allow for a good and thorough understanding through the study of actual books.

The most fruitful recreation of an historical model from an historical manual can be done under the guidance of a tutor who has profound knowledge of the manual and who has come across many of its unclarities before, who has solved some, but is continuously open to solutions seen and understood by others, people who have also dug into the subject or people who are completely oblivious yet and can approach it in open-minded fashion.

This type of workshop is exactly what the American bookbinder, conservator and tool maker Jeff Peachey offered. The subject of the workshop was the type of tight-back full leather binding which has been employed so ubiquitously on books in eighteenth century France. The place of action was Wytze Fopma’s studio in the Frisian town of Wier, the Netherlands. It was fascinating and instructional from day 1 through to 5.

Working in the company of book conservators — professionals from library, archive or private practice,  and bookbinders  — to construct a tight-back full leather binding, with raised sewing supports and a flush joint was recreated following the eighteenth century French manuals by Dudin, de Gauffecourt, and the plates accompanying Diderot. During the course long forgotten, unused techniques were employed, like the beating of text block and boards with a 4 kilo hammer and trimming the edges using a plough. One not only understands the nature of the work of the bookbinders of let’s say 1750, but one also gains insight into how different materials and a different way of processing them results in a different book. The tactility of the book is remarkably different compared to the models made without the use of mock old materials and without resorting to those obsolete techniques. You understand why boards are being laced on prior to backing and trimming and what is the consequence of backing a book in-boards. You get to understand how the final result contains closely observable and for this binding type very characteristic, but detailed differences. Some of those are described explicitly in the manuals, others can be deduced from what can be seen manifold on the historical examples.

Jeff’s teaching method is different to what particularly modern bookbinders will be used to. A cover’s square for many a modern-day trained bookbinder should be exactly 3 and not 2.5 mm, and a 90 degree backing shoulder is 90 degrees, and that’s just the way it is. While Jeff knows his sources damn well and he knows what he is doing, he seldomly gave clear, complete and compulsory instructions. He was well aware of the incomplete, sometimes deficient descriptions in the manuals and invited us continuously to ask questions — without necessarily always being able to answer them — and to make remarks and attempt to clarify up to a point, unclear parts of the descriptions. This ‘open’ approach and the pre-final result — the bound and covered, but unfinished book — seemed to bewilder some of the participants,  probably used to clearer guidelines, more stringent instructions and straight lines. This bewilderment evaporated abruptly when the book underwent its final treatments and by applying a simple dotted-pattern surface decoration with iron gall ink and a finish of glaire and paste-wash it suddenly transformed into a historical binding quite convincingly. It suddenly looked all too familiar and many of its previous deficiencies seemed to have disappeared. In reality though they had contributed largely to the satisfying final result!

The point being that while making historical models you should avoid observing with the modern eye and from modern concepts. You should put aside — nearly impossible — all you know and can do, the result of two centuries of a bookbinding tradition constantly working more set and more straight, and to try and settle into the old knowledge, attitude and methods with an unencumbered mind and let it work from within you. With his experience and knowledge Jeff Peachey has given us access to that knowledge, learned how to interpret sources and to work according to methods of that period and as a result of that process has given us moments of great satisfaction.

 

A Hollow Question

Adding a hollow (aka. Oxford hollow, tube) is often used to repair books that originally had a hollow, which makes sense. What makes less sense is using it on books that originally had a natural hollow, like case bindings. It adds at least three layers of paper, and only adds the strength of one thickness of paper. Admittedly, a strong sheet of handmade paper can be incredibly strong. Adding a hollow can dramatically change the opening, sometimes in unexpected ways. Often other hinging options with airplane cotton, linen or stout tissue are preferable. Adding a hollow is best suited to a quick and fast repair of circulating collections, or on relatively recent bindings with strong covering cloth. There are times when it should not be used.

hollow2
The movement of the spine would not be significantly changed by the addition of a hollow, since the textblock hinges from the tip of the shoulder. Remember that he significant stiffing caused by the adhesive and paper of the hollow is not addressed here, it also changes the movement, and can be damaging to a fragile covering material or spine linings..

 

hollow2
The movement of the spine would be significantly changed by the addition of a hollow, since the textblock hinges from the base of the shoulder. The changes in movement can cause severe stresses to the covering material and spine lining, possibly resulting in creasing, tearing or even failure. Remember that the stiffing resulting from the hollow can also cause damage by significantly changing the movement. Because of the interaction of the case, spine linings and hinging points, cloth case bindings are sometimes more complex to successfully conserve than leather bindings.

 

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This was one of the complexities we investigated in the recent workshop I taught at the Georgia Archives in Atlanta October 24-28, “Cloth Case Bindings: Their History and Repair.”

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Georgia Archives Conservation Lab. Photo Kim Norman.

Click on the links to see a slide show of images from each day. Images courtesy Kim Norman, Preservation Manager and Conservator, Georgia Archives. Thanks for hosting, Kim!

Day 1: https://quik.gopro.com/v/PNwC9SDNeW/

Day 2: https://quik.gopro.com/v/5v0ARgYFEo/

Day 3: https://quik.gopro.com/v/0Akz24qveU/

Day 4: https://quik.gopro.com/v/1EWV9WiqcD/

Day 5: https://quik.gopro.com/v/hPB5y1FonH/

There is talk of scheduling a complementary workshop in October 2017 at the same venue, dealing with rebacking, board attachment and repair of 19th century leather bindings. This would include leather paring with English and French knives, spokeshaves and the Scharffix paring machine, as well as methods of consolidating and dying leather. Check this blog for more info as it becomes available.