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Conservation of 19th Century Publisher’s Bindings with Todd Pattison

The second presentation I attended at the Guild of Book Workers 2011 Seminar on Standards of Excellence in Hand Bookbinding was Todd Pattison’s Conservation of 19th Century Publisher’s Bindings.

Thankfully, I was not late and got a seat that was closer to the action.

Todd said that his technique is most useful with cloth bindings that have most of their spine cloth present. His goal is to preserve as much of the original binding materials as possible, at the same time as creating a structurally sound binding. Efficiency is also important – conservation labs don’t have the resources to spend unlimited amounts of time on repairs.

After removing cloth that was still attached to the spine and lifting cloth from the boards, he used methyl cellulose as a poultice when removing spine crud (my word choice, not his).

Applying methyl cellulose to the spine of a book for repair

The goal is to get the spine as clean as possible without doing any damage.

Cleaning the spine of a book for repair

Todd said that when he rebacks a book, he uses airplane linen and acrylic paint.

After rounding the spine, he lined the spine using a strong, long fiber Japanese tissue. He said that he doesn’t like to use PVA with Japanese tissue – he prefers wheat paste.

Leather peeled back from book cover

Before applying the cloth, he attached a paper tube to the spine to simulate the hollow of a case binding. The tube is 1/4″ shorter than the outer edge of the spine. A layer of medium-weight Japanese paper was applied as a final layer. The length of the paper is slightly longer than the spine so that it can be turned in at the head and tail.

Lying press

Repaired book spine

Todd prefers to tone the paper when it’s on the book – he uses heavy body acrylic paints for this purpose. The goal is to match the original cloth as closely as possible.

Heavy body acrylic paints

Color matching the spine leather

Next, he reattached the cloth to the covers using PVA. He advised that you should feel over the cloth before you glue it down so that nothing gets trapped beneath it.

Interior hinges were repaired using Japanese paper and starch paste. The paper color can be toned using watered-down acrylic paint.

Among his other tips:

  • From Don Glaister: To minimize warping, coat an oversized paste down with PVA, let it dry, and then trim it to the correct size. Glue it into the book quickly.
  • Using watered-down paste will keep the paper from getting too stiff.
  • Tear the edges of paper when possible because cut edges don’t match up as well.

Check out Todd’s Flickr set with more images of this type of repair.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote of the presentation:

Brittle paper really keeps me up at night.

I can’t say the same. For me, it’s usually reruns of Law & Order: SVU.

So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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