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Subject: Fire damaged books

Fire damaged books

From: Per Cullhed <per.cullhed>
Date: Monday, August 7, 2000
In reply to Helen Lindsay's query about fire damaged books, we have
recently worked with a collection of such books from the city
library of Linkoping (Sweden), which burned in 1996. Many of these
books were tight-back 18th  century bindings, and the paper and
sewing were in most cases intact even if the book edged were
blackened by soot. Our main problem was to remove the leather spines
which were charred and fused to the book-blocks while still
retaining a lot of the original gold tooling. If left untreated, the
spines would have been lost with the first attempt to open the

Our solution to this problem was to secure the spines with a clear
rubber cement, loosen the spines from the book-blocks and reback the
books using a spine hollow technique. The original spine was pasted
back onto the rebacked books. After this the securing layer of
rubber cement could be peeled away.

This short description seems straightforward but I would recommend
anyone tempted to try this technique of transfer of fragile
fragments, to make extensive testing before trying it on an original

The rubber cement must be of a suitable type. We used a commercially
available cement called Fastik which contains 30% natural rubber and
70% organic solvents like heptane and MEK. It's normal use is for
gluing paper and photographs and after drying, excess glue can be
removed by rolling it off. It is of little permanence and I would
not recommend it as a glue. The dried film is glass clear and
flexible. When using it as a consolidant it is essential to modify
it's tackiness to the material to be consolidated. Otherwise it will
stick and can only be removed by using organic solvents.

We used two techniques to modify the adhesion to the charred leather
surfaces. The first was to pre-dry the glue film on a piece of
plastic wrapper foil and attach it after half an hour or so, and the
second was to treat the leather with JHS leather dressing from Hewit
and Son. The leather dressing acts as a release layer and should dry
out before applying the rubber cement. Often a combination of the
two methods were preferable. Generally a smooth surface gives less
adhesion than a coarse surface like for example suede leather which
would be likely to stick to the adhesive. It is also important to
work quickly, the longer the rubber cement stays on the spine, the
more difficult it will be to remove it.

Two distinct advantages with the method are that the release layer
is transparent, and flexible--one is able to monitor the lifting
action and the layer will not break when using the lifting knife.
Among the disadvantages  with the method are the presence of organic
solvents (using a mask is strongly recommended), and residues can
collect in crevices, but considering the nature of damage, this
seemed to us of minor importance, and this method was the only way
of successfully preserving the spines.

Per Cullhed
Head of Conservation
Uppsala University Library
Box 510
S-751 20 Uppsala
+46 18 471 6214

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:12
                  Distributed: Friday, August 11, 2000
                       Message Id: cdl-14-12-006
Received on Monday, 7 August, 2000

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