Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars
To date, this is the most comprehensive restoration I have ever completed.
I was presented with a book that was a treasured family possession but was in shabby condition. There was no spine and the covers were detached. A rodent or small animal had chewed the head through for most of the signatures and the paper was brittle and torn in many places.
I set to work with scalpel, magnifying lamp, and fine scissors and separated the signatures (a left and right hand page are connected which = a leaf. Many leafs stacked up and all folded together = signature. Many signatures are stacked up and sewn together to make a book). I used acid free glue, period paper, Japanese hand-made repair paper, repair tape, minute thinning methods, floating and soaking, deacidifying, and color blending of papers and so on to fix and coax the pages back into their original form. This took longer than any other book I have ever worked on.
Once the text block was fixed I hand stitched it with Irish linen on cords and did so “all along”. I did not have to re-saw the kerfs as the originals matched how I would have done the sawing but I had to make a few adjustments due to the repairs. Trimming was minimal in the extreme and I left the page edges ever so rough because the client wanted this as a restoration and expected to know it as such even though it would be a new binding.
I chose a super thin fine calf for the leather. The original had a bit more grain but I passed by my calf specs with the client and she approved. The color matching took many coats(almost 10). The covers that were on the book had extensive dry rot and were brittle. When the leather dried it lost the true brown tones- most likely “British Tan” and turned a russet or reddish-brown. Knowing the client would want to recognize the book as she had known it and not as it originally looked in the late 1800’s I blended British Tan with red hues and matched it very well.
I made a hollow spine, bevelled the covers with binder’s board and cut my leather. After dressing the book in its new coat I let it rest for 48 hours. When the calf I use is hand dyed and has glaire applied it becomes finished- saturated and a bit stiff…while still taking impressions. The Gold tooling on the covers was minimal but with a smooth blank surface I wanted to be sure to finish the leather so that it would not be too delicate in the future. Taking on an impression is fine if it goes away but if the client is handling it and impressions stay it is unacceptable. So I began a process of burnishing (more akin to making a lacquered box than bookbinding). I added my own version of binders finish which is made up of waxes and oils that allow the leather to breathe while making it light fast, somewhat water proof and will slow red rot. I then rubbed this with my palm and a softening agent until the surface was glossy and mirror-like. I then repeated this about 12 times over several days. The result is a leather cover that I could see my reflection in.
I worked the spine in ways that were similar to the original but modified minor points to accompany the new binding. The binding was mine but still based on the original.
The book of course had marbled pages and I chose a similar style from those produced by the American hand marbler Galen Berry. Again, these matched the original but were a bit brighter.
Finally, I made a simple slip case for the book and declared the project – DONE.
When I delivered the book I realized I forgot to take pictures and add my binders plate in the back so I bought it back the bindery, shot photos, added my signature and gave it a coat of oil one more time.
I am glad to see the beauty back in the hands of her appreciate owner and feel privileged to have worked on it.