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.