I have recently been fortunate to work on two book conservation projects which, to outward appearances, concern the conservation of quite humble bindings. However, these modest objects have great significance and importance to their owners. Both are well-used and well-loved family heirlooms, and their conservation has ensured they can be passed on and enjoyed by future generations of the families concerned.
The first project was to conserve a well-thumbed, and judging by the fantastic array of stains and accretions on the pages, well-used cookbook of handwritten recipes, passed down from mother to daughter and then to grand daughter. The recipes themselves are fantastic – who wouldn’t want to eat Orange Velvet, Sticky Bread or Creme a la Russe? – and are both carefully written and fully indexed. They are also a record of friendships and family relationships, with recipes being named as a particular person’s recipe. The binding was a simple, off the shelf stationery binding with a cloth cover, which I suspect had been covered with sticky back plastic at some stage as a means of keeping it clean and durable.
The textblock was breaking down, and the pages themselves had clear evidence of water damage – this is a hard-working cookbook after all. As well as bleeding to the media, this had led to softening and losses to some of the pages. The binding itself was cracked and split, with the spine exhibiting the worst of the damage.
After repair and resewing, the textblock and binding have been returned to functionality, ready for the next generation of budding cooks.
We all have significant books from our childhood, texts that we never forget and are almost like constant companions throughout our lives. The second project was to conserve just such a book, passed from father to daughter and enjoyed by both.
This cloth case binding was showing classic damage from being a well-loved book, with a detached upper board and some minor splits and tears to the textblock from over-zealous and excited page turning. It was important to make sure the repair to the binding and the reinstated upper joint was as in keeping with the binding as possible – such books are like well-known faces, and any difference in appearance will jar and be very obvious. Through careful toning the new joint is as invisible as possible, and in keeping with the overall fading of the covering textile.
As always, permission has been sought for the inclusion of these projects and images.