Restoration, conservation or renovation?

I am proud to have been trusted with a wonderful old book by a client. It is an 1858 copy of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This small volume is bound with a cloth binding sewn onto recessed cords as was a common practice at the time for such affordable books. However, what makes this copy particularly special is the fact that it has some lovely inscriptions in the front. The more romantic of us might think that it is Dorothy Wordsworth but sadly the dates don’t quite work as the signature is dated 1860 and Dorothy died in 1855

However, we can trace the family well. A Dora Wordsworth was born in Westminster in 1852 to Canon Wordsworth. She married Edward Leeke and they had a child, Esther Mary Sophia Leeke whose name is also in the book. It is lovely to see this book being passed down the generations as the inscription seems to imply this was a gift from her mother Dora. Books can hold that special place in families whether it is a book such as this which Dora possibly found great meaning in when she was young or a family bible which has records of the life events of generations of a family contained within it.

The main question to ask when approaching a book like this is whether we should restore, conserve or renovate the book. The final decision is of course down to the owner of the book but the approach will be very different depending upon what is to be done.

There are a number of definitions of these terms and they can mean different things in different contexts but on the whole I approach this in the following way.

Restoration is bringing an object back to how it looked when new but using old materials where appropriate and trying to retain as much of the original as possible. Renovation is again trying to bring the object back to how it looked when new but also using more modern materials; when finished it would look the same as it did when Dora was first given the book. Finally, conservation is conserving the object as it is now so that it doesn’t deteriorate further and can be kept for future generations. Conservation can also include making improvements to the object to make is useful again but it would still retain all of its old materials.

In this case the client wants to follow a conservation route which I think is absolutely right. It would be wrong to put new cloth covers on for example and new fly sheets. However, the books is currently delicate and almost impossible to handle without more bits falling off so it needs some level of restoration if it is to be readable as a book again.

I hope to report progress of the book as it progresses on these pages so there should be more to come!

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