Conserving the Proeschel Atlas: bindings

Conserving the Proeschel Atlas: bindings
Part 4 in a series on the Proeschel Atlas conservation project
29 November 2013

This is the final blogpost in this series on the Proeschel Atlas Conservation Project. This post focuses on some of the different book conservation repair techniques undertaken on each of the three copies of Frederick Proeschel’s Atlas of Australasia, 1863. The aim is to return the binding structures to a physically stable condition for readers accessing the atlases within the map reading room of the National Library of Australia. Part one of this series focused on the bindings, part two on the paper and printing used, and part three on the repair work. Each atlas binding structure had experienced very different types of damage and therefore conservation problems to be solved.

Atlas 1

As can be seen in the images below atlas 1 had only minor damage to the spine at the head and tail caps along with the usual discolouration and wear from handling. This required repair to prevent further losses occurring to this part of the book when handled.

Atlas lying on its side, spine showing
Image 1: Atlas 1 required simple repair to the head and tail cap
Image 2: detail of the headcap damage

Both the head and tail caps were repaired using layers of heavy weight Japanese repair paper toned to match the original leather. The repairs being inserted underneath and over the damaged areas of leather.

Closeup photo of the spine with new paper protruding
Image 3: inserting the Japanese paper repair
Book standing upright
Image 4: Final look of the repaired spine

Atlas 2

The damage to atlas 2 was more serious. The loss of 2/3rds of the spine leather and exposure of the cloth and paper linings beneath were the beginnings of permanent weakness and loss to the binding structure. The book would soon no longer perform the functions for which it was intended - to protect its contents. The loss of the spine leather often leads to the detachment of the front and back boards which are integral to protecting the contents of each atlas.

Book lying down with damaged spine showing
Image 5: Atlas 2 required replacement of the spine leather
Closeup photograph of the spine with fraying strips of leather
Image 6: detail of the damage to the remaining spine leather

With the loss of so much of the original leather on the spine it was agreed to remove only the spine leather. The remaining leather on the boards each side of the spine was retained as was the remains of any corner leather. The intention was to keep as much as possible of the original materials that compose this binding.

New leather was selected that matched both the colour of the original leather as well as similar flexibility. The leather was pared down to be of a similar thickness to the original leather using a variety of leather paring tools. The leather was attached using wheat starch paste. The infilling to the missing corner leather was pared down and attached with paste also.

Closeup of the spine and front cover open on table with new leather halfway through being connected
Image 7: attaching the new spine leather
closeup of the corner of the spine showing folded leather
Image 8: detail of one of the four corner repairs using leather
front-on photo of the book cover
Image 9: new leather spine

Atlas 3

Atlas 3 had unfortunately been rebound at some time in the history of the book. When I received this item it had been removed from its cover and the sewing taken off and it was difficult to determine how the guard system worked to form the maps and commentary pages into a single unit.

side-on image of the cover with ruler for scale
Image 10 Atlas 3 has a modern binding
Open front cover showing loose pages
Image 11: the book block had been removed

The book block was returned to a single structure by replacing the highly degraded remains of the guarding system with a flexible, heavy weight Japanese repair paper as the paper has proven strength and longevity. Once the guards were attached the maps and commentary leaves were sewn back together on flexible sewing tapes using a link-stitch sewing style before being returned to the modern green cover.

image of the spine area uncovered with loose strings for reattaching
Image 12: resewing the book block
Front cover open showing the newly sewn section being pushed into place
Image 13: returning the book block to the modern case
Front cover open showing title page re-connected to the book
Image 14: The completed book

From the outline above it should be possible to see the variety of repairs required to complete the book conservation work to the Proeschel atlases. Ranging from simple cap repairs to more complex guarding and sewing. This project offered some good challenges for the conservator.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank staff of the Development Office at the National Library of Australia for obtaining funding for me to carry out the work to the Proeschel atlases and some of the loose maps held with the Map Collection the National Library of Australia. Also I would like to thank Robin Tait, former Acting Manager of Preservation, and Martin Woods, Curator, Map Collection, of the National Library for their valuable input during this work.

Finally I would like to thank Frederick Proeschel for creating such fantastic atlases for me to conserve. I have many questions for him that will remain unanswered and I hope he would be happy with the conservation work I undertook during the Proeschel Conservation Project.