The little red book that could

The little red book that could
A conservation approach to detached leather tightback boards
19 December 2016

This little red book about the papers and speeches of Colonel Hutton 1894-1898 was recently brought up to the Preservation lab for a few repairs. When we took a closer look, it was evident that this leather tightback with false raised bands had not only lost its lower board with its upper board hanging on by a thread, but it had already received some treatment in the past.

Before treatment image of front

Before treatment image of back

Before treatment images of the front (top) and back (bottom) covers of the book with previous repairs visible along joint.

The boards had been previously reattached using small linen sutures that had broken away from the spine or boards, and taken a piece of the leather with it. The failure of the sutures is possibly due to the strength of the adhesive bonding to the leather and not the spine or board, and handling with force causing it to break away.

Before treatment image of previous repair (close up) 
Close up of previous repair suture, pulling off the leather from the spine as it has separated.

 

Above images depicting the detached boards.

There were Japanese paper v-hinges on the inner boards and end papers which also appeared to have failed, where stresses had been added to the pages instead of the spine and boards, which are too light to hold the weight, and cause tearing. The toned Japanese paper repairs (using the Don Etherington method of using external hinges for supporting weakened joints of leather bindings) adhered on the outer joints had come off in areas, leaving an adhesive residue and possible skinning of the leather along the joint, which later became evident after the adhesive residue and tissue was reduced. Due to the strength, colour, texture and gloss of the adhesive, it is likely that the adhesive used was ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA.

Repairing a tightback is often more difficult than case bindings or other book structures, where there is access to the spine of the book. In this case, the spine of the book is adhered to the leather case, with no hollow in between. These types of bindings have a tendency to break due to the inflexibility of the spine which can split without the use of a book support and often opens like a fan without much drape. The flexibility of these bindings also depends on the paper used and its grain direction.

   
Diagram of tightback allowing drape.

Diagram of tightback fanning with no drape.

Diagram of hollow back allowing drape.

After assessment of the item to identify the techniques and materials used to create the book and where the points of failure were, or how the book came to be in this condition, it was possible to create a treatment approach that would allow the book to be handled and accessed by the public again.

To begin with, the leather was consolidated with a non-aqueous adhesive solution of Klucel G and Isopropanol to not only hold the leather fibres that are flaking off in place, but to protect the leather from the use of adhesives that will be used later in the treatment. This solution was used with a cotton tip to reduce the Japanese paper repair and adhesive residue on the outer joint, and to attach a facing to joint areas of the book. This facing allowed movement to occur beneath the leather without a high risk of the leather flaking or chipping off.

 

Application of Japanese tissue using non-water based solvent, Klucel G and Isopropanol.

The old repairs were removed as much as possible without causing further damage to the leather or boards.

The spine was then inspected to assess whether sutures could be fitted beneath the leather spine covering and between the leather and cover boards. It is often found that the adhesive between the leather and the spine is too strong and difficult to separate, hence the application of the Don Etherington technique as an alternative solution. In this case, the leather and spine could be carefully separated between the sewing stations using a septum elevator or bamboo spatula which is less rigid. This created spaces for the strong and flexible cotton suture strips to be inserted into.  Using a toothpick application of Lascaux, these sutures could be attached to the spine and then between the split laminated layers of the boards.

 

Separating the leather from the spine of the book to insert the cotton sutures.

 

Splitting the laminated board of the cover to insert the cotton sutures.
For more interesting tools see our blog on Weird and Wonderful Tools

 

Cotton sutures attached first to the spine of the book where the sewing would be, and then the covering leather is adhered on top.

    

Using a toothpick to slide in the adhesive to the tight space.

The sutures were created to be thicker and attach deeper than the previous repairs to avoid failure again. The cotton sutures were coated with Klucel G to make the strips more rigid and easier to feed between the layers avoiding any folding of the strips that would create lumps and bumps through the leather.

Once the boards were reattached, the facing was removed by remoistening the paper with the same Klucel G and isopropanol solution (image below).

 

Japanese tissue facing removed after remoistening with Klucel G and Isopropanol solution.

A lightweight Japanese tissue was then toned using watered down acrylic paints to match the colour the book (image below).

 

Japanese tissue paper toned with watered down red acrylic paint hung up to dry on Mylar.

This was then adhered over the joint to create another method of attachment and sneakily disguise the repairs beneath. The strips were then coated with a thin layer of an acrylic polymer called SC7400, a conservation grade wax emulsion similar to shoe cream! This gives the paper repairs more of a leather look.

  

Above images depicting outer joint exposing cotton sutures, with toned Japanese tissue cut to a strip, ready to be adhered.

 

Japanese tissue adhered to joint to disguise sutures and for additional strength.

 

Using a conservation grade wax emulsion (SC7400) to apply over the paper repair, so that it mimics the look and feel of leather.

Finally the internal joints were supported with v-hinges and the torn pages were repaired using again a lightweight Japanese tissue that would allow transparency to read the media beneath and strength to hold the page together.

 

The final product, repairing only the areas which restrict it from being accessed safely by the public.

 

For further reading on the Don Etherington technique: 

Etherington, D 1995, “Japanese Paper Hinge Repair for Loose Boards on Leather Books”, in Abbey Newsletter,  Vol. 19, No. 3, pp 48-49; URL: < http://cool.conservation-us.org/byorg/abbey/an/an19/an19-3/an19-305.html>.

Catalogue record:

Papers and speeches, &c. / by Colonel Hutton, 1895-1898
 http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn985444

Comment: 
Thank you for this fascinating read. How much time does a repair like this take to do?
Comment: 
Hi Helene, Glad to hear you enjoyed it! This particular book required about 6 hours of working treatment time including toning the paper and preparing materials, however not including drying time.
Comment: 
Fascinating process! Thank you for the clear explanation. I am going to experiment on an old family Bible with a loose back cover.
Comment: 
Thanks Maryann, Good to hear you found it interesting!
Comment: 
Very interesting - I am drawing it to the attention of some libraries in Myanmar, where book conservation is a continuing problem.
Comment: 
That's fantastic, thanks Jim! I hope it's useful for them!
Comment: 
I found it very interesting. My mum worked at a Bookbinders in the mid to late 1920's, as did one of her sisters, who also worked for many years repairing books at the South Brisbane Library in the 1940s and beyond.
Comment: 
Thanks Audrey, lovely to hear that you enjoyed it and that you are related to some fellow book-lovers! It is quite the specialised field!
Comment: 
Great result Freya!
Comment: 
Thankyou Marty!
Comment: 
Great result Freya!
Comment: 
How and where can one learn how to do this kind of repair?
Comment: 
Hi Lee, there are various places in Australia that offer bookbinding, conservation or restoration courses or workshops. The best place to start may be your local Bookbinders Guild, as they will know about upcoming workshops and events. In Victoria for example, RMIT and the University of Melbourne offer formal courses in the field, and in Canberra, CIT offer great short courses in the area. I hope that gives you some guidance!
Comment: 
Helen, where do you get Klucel G? And what's the difference between that and using PVA murrurundihistoricalsociety.com
Comment: 
Hi Des, We have a great tool from which you can obtain more information about your request: Ask a Librarian http://www.nla.gov.au/askalibrarian Klucel G is a cellulose ether that can be dissolved in either water or alcohol and is commonly used for the consolidation of pigments or leather, or as an adhesive for select paper repairs. Its reversibility in addition to its aging characteristics and working properties make it favourable for conservation use. PVA is a synthetic polymer, which although strong, flexible, and fast drying, is generally not reversible, which is a highly desirable characteristic for conservation treatments. We also take into consideration the strength of the adhesive versus the strength of the material, it is important for our repairs to be the point of breakage if something should occur rather than the causing more harm or deterioration to the material itself through additional points of stress.
Comment: 
Fabulous - it was fascinating to follow the progress of repair via pics and text, to get a glimpse of the technical knowledge stored in your various brains (as a complement to your clever and artistic fingers) and such a lovely feeling of relief and satisfaction to see the repaired product of your work!
Comment: 
Hi Doreen, Thankyou! Wonderful to hear that you enjoyed our little insight into book conservation!
Comment: 
Superb craftsmanship - congratulations
Comment: 
Hi Corrie, Very kind, thankyou!
Comment: 
Intriguing to see the careful and caring step-by-step process. Great sense of satisfaction, seeing the splendid final result. Thanks for sharing!
Comment: 
Hi Christine, Thankyou! Lovely to hear that you found it as interesting as we do!
Comment: 
Very informative read. I have applied some of what you explained but not the same ingredients. Methylcellulose yes and fine Japanese tissue, will try to get other ingredients here in Sydney from Conservation suppliers. Love doing sound repairs for clients (not that they pay well enough to cover all the hours but a sound job leaves my bindery. Thanks so much - inspiring.
Comment: 
Hi Rosemarie, so glad that you have found it interesting and useful! Yes it is always satisfying to help these objects and their stories survive a bit longer! If you have any further questions, or would like more information feel free to contact us through our tool: Ask a Librarian http://www.nla.gov.au/askalibrarian
Comment: 
Great to see old books being restored
Comment: 
Thankyou Christine!
Comment: 
Thanks for your fascinating read did enjoy. Where can I purchase Klucel G and Isopropanol.& wax emulsion (SC7400) thanks
Comment: 
Hi MDelaney, thankyou, so wonderful to hear you enjoyed it. In terms of your request, feel free to contact us through our great tool where we can provide you with further information: Ask a Librarian http://www.nla.gov.au/askalibrarian
Comment: 
If one weren't committed to the historical conservation of the original tight back binding, would there have been an argument in favor of redoing the binding all together in a different type of binding?
Comment: 
What a great detailed story with pictures to see each process, should be more of this very interesting repairs on famous books, thanks for the insight. No doubt a perfect repair job like this, is costly, l ask because l have a huge dictionary n bible l think the 2nd book is that needs alittle TLC ,over 100yrs+ Maybe one day l will ivestigate the mending of them, one at a time.
Comment: 
Thank you for this wonderful blog. I have used the Etherington repair around three times but I don't remember using the cotton sutures for a tight back. Thank you so much for sharing this GREAT repair method.