Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Flowers Personified: A Leather Rebacking

The hand-colored title page and a closeup of new leather turn-ins.

Cloth joints oversewn and a picture of the detached spine The close-up shows new leather worked under old and new headcaps formed, prior to color touchup and blending..

Close-ups of the reattached spine, with new leather running from the reattached spine to the triple gold lines.

"Flowers Personified" is an unusually beautiful volume, handcolored throughout "with 52 female figures adorned with flower costumes." The textblock was in very good condition but, as is typical with books of this period (mid 19th century), there was virtually nothing holding the boards on beyond the thin covering leather and paper inner joints. As a result, both spine and boards were detached.
After cleaning the back of the textblock, linen joints were oversewn. This is a somewhat invasive procedure, but is at times invaluable for catching up loose sections front and back and for providing solid support across the joints. (The debate can rage on in the comments if you like.) To finish preparation of the textblock, the spine was relined with a new hollow.
The leather on the boards was lifted (you can see the cut right next to the three gold lines) and matching black morocco was worked around the spine and underneath the original sides. The original spine was cleaned from the backside (extra layers of lining material removed), headcap areas were thinned, and then it was laid back over the new spine. New leather was blended with the old and though the camera flash is merciless, the repairs are fairly invisible to the untrained eye. This type of rebacking is perhaps the most common "surgery" performed by book doctors, and similar techniques are used for clothbound books.


Trinka said...

I am a beginning student of book repair, and I wondered if you could explain "oversewn" to me?

I often find books that have the initial signature or two loose, but the remainder of the text block still tight. I'd like to learn more about this process. I assumed that the entire text block would need to be re-sewn in this situation.

The Gilded Leaf said...

Hi, Trinka. There are several types of oversewing. Most common is a method used in the simple bible repair end of things for resewing the whole textblock, where the book is pulled apart and small sections of pages (perhaps 3mm thick) are pierced through the inner margin, sewn together in these small sections, and then these sections sewn together to re-form the textblock. While very effective for the thin paper used in bibles (and economic), this creates a "tear-along-the-dotted-line" problem for many papers. So, unless the thickness of the paper and/or the size of the page allows them to lie down well, the result is a book that won't open well at all. (There's no fold to open to, and the thread acts much like a clamp would in holding that spine edge of the book together.) I should add that this is usually accomplished with an oversewing machine and that except for the common bible (thin paper) the practice is completely inappropriate for all but the most ordinary books. That's not the kind of oversewing I refer to above.

If you don't own one already, find a copy of Bernard Middleton's "The Restoration of Leather Bindings" which focuses on books requiring careful handwork and which are usually of high value for historic, aesthetic, or sentimental reasons. Pages 94-96 of the Oak Knoll edition describe the type of "overcasting" I do, though I've modified the technique just a bit. Here, a cloth joint is tipped onto the shoulders and then the needle pierces through the shoulder and out to the spine of the book. This attaches those loose sections to the rest of the textblock and mechanically attaches a cloth joint, which will give great strength in the inner joints. Yes, though not visible, some holes will be added to the original paper, hence some of the controversy. So, there are many cases where partial or complete resewing is most appropriate. Middleton includes several paragraphs on this discussion. Here, a picture would be far better... Buy the Middleton book!!