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Deconstructing Book Repair

Comedies and Tragedies

Many books come into Preservation with a broken joint or torn internal hinge, which makes the repair needed easy to see. Sometimes, one might see the repairs of a prior bookbinder. This was the case when I began work on Comedies and Tragedies, by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, printed in 1647. Small tabs of vellum with a cursive script on each one had been attached to the spine (I assume to help hold the cover board on securely). These vellum tabs were obviously cut from a sheet of vellum used for another purpose and were now being re-purposed. In addition, 2 strips of printed paper were also sewn onto the edge of the spine created a flange (again, I assume for more secure board attachment). I think this underscores how valuable unused pieces of paper, vellum or leather were to early binders. They used everything they could in order for there to be almost no waste.

In an article by Barbara Rhodes , 18th and 19th Century European and American Paper Binding Structures: A Case Study of Paper Bindings in the American Museum of Natural History Library, she mentions these spine linings using “printers waste.” Rhodes states that in a survey of the American Museum of Natural History collection, 63% of spines were lined with printers waste. In this collection, the earliest book lined with printers waste dated from 1759 and Rhodes states this practice became common by 1830.

I am currently doing a folio review in our Special Collections and this practice really teaches you about the collection: the content and the condition. I enjoy this meditative practice which involves examining and measuring each folio (approximately 15″ or taller) in the collection. This review will identify preservation needs as well as space requirements.

3 Comments on ’Deconstructing Book Repair‘

  1. Mary Beth

    I love how you use “obviously” to describe things that are not obvious to non book binders at all! This is a fascinating behind the scenes look. Thanks, Craig!

  2. Lynn Sutton

    Fascinating stuff, Craig. The folio review will really help us, I think. Glad you are enjoying it!

  3. Megan Mulder

    Absolutely right! Paper was very expensive (vellum even more so) and it was always reused. My favorite example of use of binder’s waste from our collection is a volume of incunabula whose binding is covered with pages from a manuscript missal.