Greetings from Sussex Book Restoration, the occasional diary of a Sussex bookbinder.

 

1655-BIBLEHello and welcome to the occasional diary page for Sussex Book Restoration. I update this diary/blog from time to time as and when I have interesting or noteworthy restoration projects come in that I’d like to share with you. In the entries below (scroll down to see them), you’ll find ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos to illustrate the descriptions of the processes that I’ve carried out on these books. I do hope that you find these occasional updates interesting and that you’ll return from time to time to see what I’ve been working on recently.

Michael Sassen

Facsimile title page and replacing a lost marbled endpaper

This attractively-bound children’s novel from the early 19th century had like many old children’s books, seen better days after years of ‘enthusiastic’ use by previous young owners.
Unusually for a children’s book, it had been attractively bound in a contemporary full leather binding with lavish gold tooling and marble paper endpapers. The front cover of the binding had become detached at some point in the past and the front free endpaper had been lost, leaving only it’s marbled counterpart pasted onto the inside of the front cover.

The detached front cover before restoration.

The spine before restoration.

The back cover before restoration.

Sadly and no doubt as a result of the front cover becoming detached, the book’s printed title page was now also lost, leaving the dust-soiled and finger marked dedication page as the first page to greet the eye.

When the book arrived, the ‘dedication’ page was the first page and the front flyleaf was missing.

The first task was to remove this little book’s pretty spine intact as it was an integral part of the original binding and not an easy design to replicate if I wasn’t able to save the original. Fortunately, patience and a steady hand enabled me to slowly but surely prise the frail spine from the text block and then gently remove it’s layers of backing paper. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I was finally able to put the spine, still in one piece, into a storage envelope for later re-use.
The book’s owner was able to locate and forward to me a high resolution scan of the missing title page, taken from another copy and consequently, I next turned my attention to producing a reasonably faithful facsimile of the lost title page to bind into the book.
Having digitally ‘cleaned up’ the scan to remove unwanted marks including an old library stamp, I dug through my collection of old endpapers and blank leaves and found an example that was a close match to the paper stock used in the children’s book both in weight and tone and after having made a couple of test prints onto modern paper, I printed out the title page onto the old sheet.
Once sewn in and trimmed to the dimensions of the rest of the book, the ‘new’ title page sat quite comfortably with the rest of the book: quite obviously a facsimile but one that didn’t look jarringly out of place in this old volume.

The facsimile title page bound into the book.

The original ‘dedication’ page now preceded by the facsimile title page.

In the past, these kinds of facsimile pages were reproduced from photocopies and printed onto bright white photocopy paper. With the advent of digital technology and a bit of forethought put into selecting an appropriate paper stock, it is now possible to produce facsimile pages that are much more in keeping with the lost pages that they replace.
Next, the book was rebacked in calf of a similar colour to the original binding, creating a new spine and reuniting the covers with the text block. The original spine was mounted onto the new one leaving little of the new leather visible except along the hinges and at the very top and bottom of the spine.

The front cover after restoration.

The spine after restoration.

The back cover after restoration.

Finally, I turned my attention to the missing front marbled endpaper. I keep a large collection of old marble paper sheets and luckily, found a sheet of nearly identical marble paper dating from the same period as this book which I used to create a replacement flyleaf, trimming it to the dimensions of the text block once it was attached and so completing a very satisfying restoration.

The replacement front endpaper.

The benefits of using a specialist leather dressing.

This little 18th century volume arrived with its front cover detached, the edges of its covers quite worn and spongey and lacking its original spine label.
It is often near-impossible to remove the spine intact on these small 18th century bindings due to the thinness of the leather on the spine and the technique used in the original binding process whereby the spine was stuck directly to the spine of the text block. (Later binding styles incorporated a layer or two of paper between the text block and the spine leather, making it much easier to separate one from the other if a repair is required) Consequently, the dried out spine leather often crumbles in the process of trying to lift it, making it unusable with regard to incorporating it into the repair.

Front cover before repair.

Spine before repair.

Back cover before repair.

In this instance however, though the front cover had detached, the book had obviously been well looked-after in the past having had a coating of leather dressing applied to the leather-covered areas at some point in its recent history. Consequently, the spine leather wasn’t at all dry and flaky and the spine came off easily and in one piece. Handy, as though in relative terms it was quite a plain spine, the owner was very keen for me to re-use it in the repair.
The book was rebacked in calf to match the original covering material and the worn and spongey edges of the covers re-consolidated to a hard finish. The original spine was then mounted onto the new spine, leaving little of the new leather visible apart from at the top and bottom of the spine and along the front and back hinges.
Finally, I made new lettering pieces for the spine and lettered them in a style appropriate for the era of the book. As this volume contained a collection of three year’s worth of periodicals, the second spine label listed the dates of those publications.

Front cover after repair.

Spine after repair.

Back cover after repair.

Had the book not been treated with a specialist leather dressing in its recent history, I’m fairly sure that the spine would have been impossible to remove intact when I worked on the book. I always recommend that owners of leather-bound books obtain a specialist leather dressing to periodically use on their bindings in order to preserve them from the ravages of sunlight and central heating but until now, it hadn’t occurred to me that by doing so, they also make it easier to preserve as much of the original binding as possible if and when the time comes to repair the book.
I use and recommend ‘Marney’s Conservation Leather Dressing’ which can easily be found using an online search, though there are a few other brands out there too. I apply a generous coating to every leather binding that I work on before returning it to its owner and every serious collector of leather-bound books should consider owning and using a tub of this specialist wax. One small tub may well last you the rest of your life if your library isn’t huge and an application every 2-5 years will literally add years of life to any leather binding in your collection.

Repair of Winnie the Pooh’s pictorial endpapers

This well-worn copy of ‘The World of Pooh’ had been in the owner’s possession since childhood and had quite obviously seen a lot of service over the ensuing years. Both hinges of the cloth binding were torn and the binding itself had been partially torn away from the text block, badly damaging the printed pictorial endpapers at the back of the book.

The binding before repair.

Front endpaper before repair.

The glue holding the text block together had started to fail, making the text block loose and quite likely to fall apart with much further handling.

On first viewing it appeared that a lot of the rear endpaper had been lost and that a neat repair would be impossible, the only solution being to replace the endpapers completely with new ones made of plain paper. But on closer inspection it was clear that though badly torn, almost all of the printed endpaper was still present and that with a little ingenuity and the aid of a scanner and a computer, it would be possible to restore the endpaper back to a reasonably good condition using a technique that I’ve previously only used to repair endpapers decorated with a simple repeating pattern.

Rear endpaper before repair.

Repairing the binding was relatively straightforward. The text block was separated from the binding and re-glued and re-lined to make it solid again. The original cloth spine was removed and set aside and a new spine was created by rebacking the book in cloth of a similar colour to the original covering material. The original spine was then mounted onto the new one and the frayed and spongey edges and corners of the covers were consolidated, completing the repair process for the binding itself.

The binding after repair.

Though split along the hinge, the front endpaper was otherwise mostly intact and as it featured the same printed design as that on the rear endpaper, I was able to scan it and digitally ‘clean it up’ before printing a couple of copies onto blank sheets of paper.
The endpapers were gently lifted around all of the areas where damage had occurred and corresponding patches of the picture were cut from the new printed sheets which would fill the gaps where the original design had been lost. These patches were pasted into their correct positions and the lifted edges of the torn endpapers were then pasted down over the top of them resulting in barely visible joins between the old and new paper.

Front endpaper before repair.

Front endpaper after repair.

Rear endpaper before repair.

Rear endpaper after repair.

Without access to a scanner, computer and printer, it would have been almost impossible to replicate the lost parts of these pictorial endpapers, but in this instance, relatively modern technology was combined with time-honoured repair techniques to put a much-loved book back into good order. As I seem to have more and more people bringing me their cherished 20th century children’s books to repair, I imagine that this will be a technique that I’ll be revisiting again in the future as these sorts of books often have pictorial endpapers.

Restoration of a notebook owned by John Constable

One of the most absorbing (and challenging!) projects that I’ve worked on in recent months is the restoration of a notebook reputedly once owned by the artist John Constable.
The book, containing around 100 pages of neatly handwritten notes, arrived almost completely disbound and lacking it’s back cover and endpapers. One page had been roughly torn in half, with it’s lower half now lost and the well-worn front cover had been crudely attached to the first page of notes with heavy brown tape at some point in the book’s life, obscuring much of the handwriting beneath it. The front cover itself had a large and prominent burn mark within a concave gouge right in it’s centre.

Front cover before repair.

I had initially suggested to the owner that it might be more practical to send the book elsewhere to have it put into a new binding, but they were adamant that they wanted to save as much of the original item as possible as everything present had at some point, been handled by one of England’s most famous artists.
The first task was to remove the tape attaching the front cover to the first page of text.

The front pastedown and first text leaf before commencing work.

Fortunately, it being a very old repair, the adhesive on the back of the tape was water-soluble and the ink used to write the notes was not. So with careful dampening and teasing, the tape slowly but surely came away revealing the notes beneath it that had been obscured for many years. Having removed the other half of the tape strip from the inside of the front cover, the most nerve-wracking part of the job was completed!

The first text leaf after tape removal and with a new front flyleaf inserted.

The front pastedown and new flyleaf after tape removal.

The text block had one blank leaf remaining at the end of the book which was of the same paper stock as the rest of the book. Deciding that this was a perfect match to repair the torn page with and with the owner’s permission, I removed it and used it as the source for the paper to repair the torn page.

The front of the torn page.

The front of the torn page after repair and re-insertion into the text block.

The back of the torn page.

The back of the torn page after repair and re-insertion into the text block.

The mostly disbound text block then separated back into it’s individual quires which were reinforced at their folds and re-sewn back into one book block.

The disbound text block before commencing work.

Having got the text block itself back into a sound and solid state, it was time to put that aside and turn my attention to the binding.

The text block after re-sewing.

The original paper covering on the front cover was heavily rubbed but would need to be replicated in some form onto new paper in order to repair the worn corners and large mark on the front cover as well as to provide the ‘siding’ paper for the currently non-existent back cover. I made a number of scans of different regions of the paper on the front cover and combining these in an image editing programme on my computer, ended up with a reasonably credible pattern that replicated the existing patination and could be printed onto new paper. Whilst mimicking the patination proved to be possible, precisely matching the colours of the original paper proved to be beyond me as well as the specialist printers that I approached to handle the final printing process and so I had to settle for as near a match as could be achieved.
Having produced a few sheets of an acceptable ‘repair’ paper, I then set about making the repairs. The worn corners of the front cover were rebuilt to square and then neatly re-covered as was the worn top edge.

Upper edge and corner after repair.

Lower corner after repair.

The large gouge in the front cover was filled and sanded smooth and then covered with a patch of the repair paper pared very thinly at its edges so that it sat flush with the cover once the repair had dried.

Front cover after repair.

A new back cover was cut to match the dimensions of the existing front cover and the now repaired and re-sewn text block was then reunited with it’s old and new cover with a plain leather spine that reflected the likely style of the original based on what remained of it when I received the book. A sheet of the printed repair paper was then applied as the new ‘siding’ for the back cover.

The new back cover showing the composite printed ‘siding’ paper.

Finally, I found a couple of sheets of contemporary paper that closely matched the original paper stock which I used to recreate the missing front flyleaf and rear endpapers.

The final leaf of text and replacement rear flyleaf.

The replacement rear endpapers.

All in all, a very satisfying restoration of a notebook that in it’s own way, forms a small part of British art history.

The binding restored and ready to return to it’s owner.

Repair and refurbishment of a fine Morocco binding

This handsomely bound volume on Maori art would have looked splendid when new at the turn of the 20th century but a hundred or more years of poor storage and exposure to direct sunlight and/or central heating had dried out the Morocco leather covering causing it to discolour and become powdery and rubbed with the front hinge eventually splitting as a result of the dryness of the leather.

Front cover before repair.

Spine before repair.

Back cover before repair.

The book’s decorative spine was removed and set aside and a new spine created in Morocco to match the original covering material. This repaired the split hinge and firmly reunited the covers with the text block. The original spine was then mounted onto the new one and as the original spine was essentially intact, the new leather was then only visible at the very top and bottom of the spine and along the hinges of the book.
The powdery and rubbed leather was consolidated to halt any further degradation and the whole binding was then carefully re-coloured back to it’s original navy blue before a coat of leather dressing was applied.
The repair and renovation brought this handsome binding back to a condition close to how it would have looked when new, accentuating the lavish gold tooling on the spine and front cover.

Front cover before repair.

Front cover after repair.

Spine before repair.

Spine after repair.

Back cover before repair.

Back cover after repair.

Repairs to cloth bindings and disbound or broken text blocks

Many of the examples of repairs that I’ve featured in older posts here, are on books bound in leather. Cloth-bound books come in just as often for repair, with many exhibiting the same problems as their leather counterparts. The covering material on old cloth bindings can wear thin at the hinges of the covers and eventually start to tear. Once torn along the whole length of a hinge, it’s not long before the front or back cover detaches from the book. The spine can start to fray and tear or completely detach and eventually, pieces of the spine break off. If the binding has fallen into pieces and no longer offers protection and support to the text block, the text block itself can become the next victim of the process and start to split vertically into a number of parts or even into a pile of loose pages. It’s usually possible to repair a text block that has split into one or two parts and if a book really has become a pile of pages, then it can be re-sewn back into one block again as it would have been when the book was originally bound. Two books came in over recent months that are both good examples of the faults noted above and give a good idea of what can be achieved with the repairs:

The spine and covers had detached from this volume, with some parts of the spine having then broken off and become lost over time. As the binding no longer protected the text block, the text block itself had split into two parts:

Spine detached and the text block split.

The two halves of the text block were reunited with a sewn repair and then a new cloth spine created that rejoined the covers into one binding in turn, re-attached to the text block. The remains of the original spine were then laid down onto the new spine and the missing gold lettering on the spine title were added in gold to match the original:

The binding repaired and the old spine laid down onto the new.

Missing letters tooled-in to match the remaining original titling.

No indication that the text block was ever split into two parts.

This volume arrived with the cloth binding starting to tear at it’s hinges and fray at the head and tail of the spine. The text block itself had started to fall into pieces and required re-sewing to put it into one piece again. Unusually, this book had been bound using staples rather than having been sewn with thread and the staples having rusted over time had been the cause of the book becoming so disbound so having removed all of these, the book was resewn in a more conventional (and robust) way with waxed thread. The binding was then repaired in a similar way to the one above, with a new cloth spine created onto which the original cloth spine was attached:

The hinges had worn thin and were starting to tear.

…and the spine had become frayed at it’s head and tail.

The pages were starting to separate into their individual sections.

Once repaired, the hinges are now robust.

…the spine is no longer frayed.

…and the pages sewn back together.

…allowing the book to be opened without pages popping out.

More family Bible repairs

It’s not uncommon for a family with a long history to own an old ‘family Bible’ that has been passed down through multiple generations. Many of these contain important handwritten genealogical information about the family’s history. Sometimes, in the process of being moved from home to home or through poor storage in the past or just through continued handling, the Bible has become damaged and then starts to fall apart. In the long term, the consequence of this is that the parts of the binding become separated from the book and lost and eventually the only solution to prevent the complete loss of an important family heirloom is to have the Bible rebound from scratch which can be very expensive. Almost always, as long as the Bible still retains it’s covers and ideally it’s spine, it is possible to repair the binding before a full rebind is required. I work on quite a lot of these Bibles and sometimes have more than one ‘on the bench’ at the same time. At one point last year, I had four on the go at the same time, all different sizes and in different bindings, but all essentially the same kind of cherished family heirloom of great value to the family that each came from. Having four in progress at the same time presented a great opportunity to show what can be achieved and the following photographs show ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots of the group:

The four Bibles as they looked before I started work on them.

The four Bibles as they looked after repairs were completed.

If the spine of your Bible or part of it has detached, as long as you still have all of the bits, it’s possible to repair the book and re-use the spine resulting in a fairly unobtrusive repair. This Bible arrived with most of the spine detached and one section still attached to the back cover, but with almost none of it actually lost. The first photograph shows the Bible as it was when it arrived and the following three show it once it was repaired:

If you are interested to see how I repair these Bibles, click this link Repair of a large Victorian family Bible – step by step to see an older post that shows the process in some detail.

Repair of a large Victorian family Bible – step by step.

One of the most common repairs that I am asked to undertake is when the covers and/or the spine have become detached from a large Victorian family Bible. These hefty Bibles, all produced between around 1850 and 1900, were bound to look very striking in full black goatskin with lots of blocked gold decoration on the spine and covers and sometimes, brass fittings to the edges of the covers or the corners. But their heavy covers were almost always poorly attached for their size and after 150 years of use, rough handling and being passed down generations, the leather on the hinges can start to split and eventually either the spine detaches or one or both of the covers fall off.

Earlier this year I repaired a Bible that was a good example of the sort of condition that these large volumes can end up in. It arrived looking like this, with both covers and the frontispiece detached and with parts of the spine missing:

Family Bible before repair.

Family Bible before repair.

Family Bible before repair.

Family Bible before repair.

Family Bible before repair.

Family Bible before repair.

Family Bible endpaper before repair.

Family Bible endpaper before repair.

Family Bible frontispiece before repair.

Family Bible frontispiece before repair.

The loose frontispiece and detached covers were re-attached and the book was rebacked with a new leather spine with the remains of the old spine pasted down onto it. Missing areas of gold tooling were re-tooled to match the original and the inside cloth hinges neatly rebuilt. Finally, rubbed areas of leather on the original spine and covers were re-coloured to the original tone before the Bible was returned to it’s owner looking like this:

Family Bible after repair.

Family Bible after repair.

Family Bible after repair.

Family Bible after repair.

Family Bible after repair.

Family Bible after repair.

Family Bible endpaper and inside hinge after repair.

Family Bible endpaper and inside hinge after repair.

Family Bible frontispiece after re-attachment.

Family Bible frontispiece after re-attachment.

I thought that it might be interesting for anyone reading this post to see the various stages of the work involved in bringing this Bible back to a presentable and readable state, so I photographed the processes which are described as follows:

The text block is clamped into a press prior to removing the original spine.

The text block is clamped into a press prior to removing the original spine.

The original spine is removed.

The original spine is removed.

...and set aside.

…and set aside.

The back of the text block is cleaned of all the old adhesive and then re-glued and re-lined, with new headbands applied.

The back of the text block is cleaned of all the old adhesive and then re-glued and re-lined, with new headbands applied.

This Bible having brass edging, the tiny nails holding the edging in place are prised out.

This Bible having brass edging, the tiny nails holding the edging in place are prised out.

...and the edging gently prised away from the edges of the covers.

…and the edging gently prised away from the edges of the covers.

The edges of the leather on each cover are lifted. The new leather spine will be inserted under these edges.

The edges of the leather on each cover are lifted. The new leather spine will be inserted under these edges.

A piece of leather is cut to size and then prepared for use.

A piece of leather is cut to size and then prepared for use.

...before being dyed to the correct colour.

…before being dyed to the correct colour.

The new piece of leather is inserted under the lifted leather on each cover and drawn tightly over the raised bands on the spine.

The new piece of leather is inserted under the lifted leather on each cover and drawn tightly over the raised bands on the spine.

...and the lifted edges on each cover are then pasted down.

…and the lifted edges on each cover are then pasted down.

Once the first part of the repair has dried, the new leather at the head and tail of the spine will be 'turned in'.

Once the first part of the repair has dried, the new leather at the head and tail of the spine will be ‘turned in’.

The leather is 'turned in'.

The leather is ‘turned in’.

...and a flattened 'headcap' shaped (repeated at head and tail of the spine).

…and a flattened ‘headcap’ shaped (repeated at head and tail of the spine).

Once this stage of the repair is completed, the new spine looks like this.

Once this stage of the repair is completed, the new spine looks like this.

The remains of the original spine are then pasted down onto the new one.

The remains of the original spine are then pasted down onto the new one.

The covers are re-attached using a reinforced linen joint to create a bond between the text block and covers that is stronger than the original cords that held the covers on.

The covers are re-attached using a reinforced linen joint to create a bond between the text block and covers that is stronger than the original cords that held the covers on.

Before a further strip of coloured cloth to match the original inside cloth hinge is added for further strength and to make a neat repair.

Before a further strip of coloured cloth to match the original inside cloth hinge is added for further strength and to make a neat repair.

...which looks like this when completed.

…which looks like this when completed.

Areas where the gold tooling is missing and needs to be replaced are marked out and then prepared with a special adhesive.

Areas where the gold tooling is missing and needs to be replaced are marked out and then prepared with a special adhesive.

...before new gold tooling is applied. Unfortunately, it is not viable to replicate the large decorative device in the middle of the spine panel as a set of tools would have to be cut specifically to match this design, but all missing gold lines and more standard tooled areas are re-tooled as required.

…before new gold tooling is applied. Unfortunately, it is not viable to replicate the large decorative device in the middle of the spine panel as a set of tools would have to be cut specifically to match this design, but all missing gold lines and more standard tooled areas are re-tooled as required.

The new tooling is then toned to blend in with the original gold work.

The new tooling is then toned to blend in with the original gold work.

...and finally, the small nails holding the brass work are replaced with the brass edging attached back into position.

…and finally, the small nails holding the brass work are replaced with the brass edging attached back into position.

Taking us from this....

Taking us from this….

To this.

To this.

Worn leather bindings can be refurbished and their worn corners repaired

Leather bindings can dry out over time and become rubbed, especially at their hinges and corners. Small splits can start to appear at the tops or bottoms of the hinges and the leather covering over the corners can become rubbed away with wear. There are always opportunities to bring worn leather bindings back to a condition in which the wear no longer shows as badly and the causes of the wear can been addressed to the point where that process has been halted.

These two ex-library volumes, grandly bound in half morocco with vellum sides arrived looking the worse for wear with the bindings rubbed, the vellum sides dust-soiled and starting to detach, the leather covering at the corners rubbed away and a small split starting at the top of one of the rear hinges. The damage was nowhere near bad enough to require a major repair, but there were a number of minor problems that once addressed, would put the bindings back into a presentable state:

The two books as they looked when they arrived.

Vellum siding starting to detach.

Spines quite rubbed.

The vellum siding pieces were pasted back down onto the covers, removing any creases in the process and were as best as possible, cleaned. Small splits to the hinges are not always possible to repair on leather bindings, it depends on the specific style of the binding and how friable the leather covering material has become, but in this instance it was possible to make a small localised repair in matching leather to the split at the top of one of the rear hinges:

The split before repair.

…and after.

The customer was quite keen that these books were refurbished as completely as possible, so the areas at the tips of the corners where the original leather covering material had been rubbed away were rebuilt to ‘square’, the remaining leather lifted and new matching leather repair pieces inserted with the old leather then pasted down again. The result was that the tips of the corners now looked aesthetically ‘correct’ again and the corners were once again protected with leather:

Worn corners before repair.

,,,and after.

The leather covering material was then paste-washed to consolidate any friable areas, re-coloured where the leather was visibly rubbed and finally, a leather dressing was applied to re-introduce oils lost over years of dry storage that will over time, help to keep the leather supple:

The bindings repaired and refurbished.