Conservation complete

A few months ago I posted about a small copy of Pilgrim’s Progress printed in 1858 that I had been asked to conserve. You can find that first post here. The book is now complete and on its way back to the owner. Below is a short outline of what was done to the book to conserve it. The principle I followed was that I wanted to keep as much of the original book as possible, try to use original materials and make the book useable again.

The first job was to assess the damage and you can see from the pictures that the covers were quite literally hanging on by a few threads of mull and little else. The book cloth had become detached from the spine lining and had worn very thin. The spine lining itself had cracked as had the glue on the spine and the cords onto which the book had been sewn had snapped meaning the book block had split apart down the middle and the signatures were all loose on the sewing as the spine lining had failed as had the original mull. Some the signatures were damaged and the fly leaves had also become detached.

It was important to conserve the fly leaves as they had both illustrations and a family history contained on the front cover. If you read my previous blog you will see that initially we were hoping that the signature was that of Dorothy Wordsworth but the dates didn’t work and some family history research told us that it was somebody called Dora Wordsworth who had owned it as a child in 1860. She had then gifted the book to her own daughter whose name (Esther) was also to be found in the front cover dated 1902. The book had been well-used and probably read several times by both women looking at the edges of the pages which had clearly been turned.

Inside the book I found a pencil drawing of the Lincoln Imp, a little demon to be found high up in the roof of Lincoln Cathedral and still used today as Lincolnshire County Council’s logo. Sadly it wasn’t named so we don’t know whether this was done by Dora or Esther, her daughter, but I suspect it had been used as a book mark.

The book block itself was loose but the sewing was still holding in the main so I decided not to ‘pull’ the book completely but instead to consolidate the spine and sew on new tapes which I could then use to reattach the boards.

You can see in the images the split in the cords. This image is taken after I have removed all of the old dried glue and mull. The cord was just long enough to be reused so I carefully rethreaded the cord back through the sewing and then sewed new tape onto the spine. I didn’t need to go through every signature for this process and I reused the old sewing holes to avoid adding any more damage to the signatures. Finally, the book was re-rounded and the spine glued into position.

It was then necessary to strengthen the spine and so I attached new mull and spine lining, each layer adding strength and having a fresh layer of glue.

Finally I added new book cloth for the spine and remade the case to the exact new dimensions of the book block so that the spine was now fully consolidated and good for another 100 years or so of reading. Let’s not forget that this little book is already over 160 years old and we know of at least four owners (Dora, Esther, the person who gave it to the client who asked me to conserve it and of course the client themselves).

I needed to attach new flysheets inside to form an internal hinge. I knew that the mull and tapes would do all of the work for the hinge but these needed covering over. The original flysheets were already torn but I didn’t want to use modern paper. The yellow slightly shiny paper used in this book was quite commonly used in books in the mid 19th century so I went through my collection of old books to find one that I could safely remove the fly sheets from to reuse here. Whilst the new flysheets had faded differently at least I knew they were contemporary material.

Finally we needed to reattach the old spine cloth and stain the new book cloth to tone it down as it was much brighter than the 160 year old cloth that was already on there.

Overall this has been a lovely project to work on. Each book conservation or restoration is different and you never really know what you will find until you start to take the book apart. The human story behind this one with the inscriptions and pencil drawing have made it particularly special.

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