The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 11, Number 8
Dec 1987

LBS Conference, Part II

by Ellen McCrady

This continues the report of papers and discussion at the Library Binding Service conference at Des Moines, August 8-9, "The Lessons of History and Experience in the Design of Conservation Bindings." In the October issue, the topic of "History and Research" was covered. This part of the report deals with

2. Current practice in major labs

3. Cloth and thread

4. Training

5. The bookshelf problem

6. Theory and promising developments

7. The stabsewn endsheet issue

8. Miscellaneous topics

2. Current Practice In Major Labs

Don Etherington, in his talk on the concertina guard, said they could be precut and prefolded, or (especially if signatures are different widths) folded during sewing and tinned after sewing. The folds should be kept as small as possible; they can be made with the aid of a knitting needle or a card or straightedge. They do increase the swell, which can be minimized by choice of paper, but which should not be controlled by reducing the size of thread used. Concertina guards should not be used on brittle books, and may make it impossible to return the textblock to the original cover; but it protects mending, improves appearance and (it seams) openability, and allows the binder a free choice of adhesive on the spine. At HRHRC, Bruce Levy is working on a structure (for albums?) that uses the concertina principle to provide excellent openability in their "k118 structure. For vellum books, one might want to use the concertina as a series of compensation guards, or in its usual function as an adhesive barrier.

Tony Cains volunteered a number of helpful hints on treatment and storage of vellum books, reattaching old boards, and other matters, illustrated with slides and blackboard drawings. Some of the slides showed the class in the summer conservation binding school at the University of Texas, where he was teaching. He recommended the use of the skin peg to peg cords and thongs into boards, instead of wood or metal, which sometimes split it: pull a triangular piece of alum-tawed skin through the hole in the opposite direction from the cord and cut off the excess. He sews all his books on linen cord, not thongs. To reattach old boards, they make new headbands and new "cords" or cord-attachments, if they can't shelve the book horizontally or use a book shoe (of which more later on in this report). They lift the end panels of the old spine and adjacent board leather, clean the spine at head and tail, attach a vellum liner with flaps across the hinges, sew endbands through the liner, and lay the lifted leather back down. Optional steps: tacket the vellum flaps to the boards; lay a thin piece of leather over the area before replacing cover leather. At another time, he described a separate method of reattaching old boards, by needle-drilling through the kerf (like stab-sewing through the shoulders, only further out) and through a linen lining without flaps, previously applied to the spine; thread a loop of cord through the drilled hole, go hack through the loop end, and lace it into the board, fraying out the separate ends of the cord on the inside of the board. (This explanation is necessarily incomplete and unsatisfactory, based as it is on notes taken at the conference.)

Book shoes were described and approved of by two or three of the speakers, because they are useful for books with loose or gaping boards and rough or vulnerable covers; they support sagging textblocks; librarians accept then; and they can be made so quickly (20 minutes apiece). They were designed for use in libraries of historic houses, where they are practically invisible because they are built like a slipcase with the top part open. The two sides come precreased, each with two flaps. The sides are cut down to the size of the book, and joined by gluing the flaps, then attaching a block for support of the textblock at the bottom on the inside. A description with instructions was available from Chris Clarkson, and it may be published in this Newsletter later on.

Another handy hint from Mr. Clarkson was to use a boxing (dovetail) joint for making small boxes of binder's hoard--the kind devised by Sandy Cockerell. (He did not say where to get the cutting die for your arbor press, to cut the joints with.) He recommended covering the inside of the trays in clamshell boxes with an extension of the cloth used for the cover. He said the fore edge square in the box was a weakness of the box as constructed in the United States, and he might have recommended that it be eliminated (the notes are not clear here).

Cloth And Thread

Bill Minter spoke on the use of cloth as a cover material, with special emphasis on the lasting qualities of linen. He discovered in the course of his investigations that most linen on the market today is not the same as the durable material used in old bookbindings. It does not even last as long as paper or cotton cloth. This is not surprising when you consider the acid baths and bleaching processes it is put through. "Natural" linen is bleached white and then colored with some unsavory mixture back to a "natural" color. It is sized with soap or silicon, an unnecessary step for bookbinding linen. Cord often contains straw and other garbage that comes out when you fray it.

He found only one linen that was known not to have had these treatments: airplane linen. Others may have qualified too, but the distributors could not say how they had been manufactured. Good linen has been boiled and washed, and is unbleached. It is described in the trade as "gray goods"--that is, untreated except to remove the lignin by boiling and washing. Binders have gotten together to place orders for cloth and cord made to their specs in special runs. A special make of this cord is now being sold by Colophon Hand Bookbinding, 1902 North 44th St., Seattle, WA 98103 (206/ 633-1759). It is called Best C. C. Bookbinding Cord.

Two good suppliers of linen are:

Testfabrics Inc.
PO Drawer 0
Middlesex, NJ 08846 (201/469-6446)

Hamilton Adams Imports Ltd.
104 W. 40th St.
New York, NY 10018 (212/868-6548)

Mr. Minter described how he dyes and sizes linen to use for recovering 19th and 20th century edition bindings: with acrylic colors (safer than powdered dyes) and a paste made of equal parts of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose. He spreads the mixture with a brush or roller, finishes off with a Japanese brush, and lets it dry on Mylar. It can be formed around raised bands, and looks good with a leather label.


During one of the question and answer periods, panel members were asked to describe their training programs. Bill Anthony named seven different programs or schools at the University of Iowa that gave courses relating to the bock, and the person to contact for each. They were in papermaking, design of hand-printed books, medieval manuscripts, typography and the history of the book, bookbinding, book conservation, and a practicum for librarians.

Guy Petherbridge described the scope and emphases of the preservation and conservation programs at Columbia University in New York: archives and libraries, brittle books, management and maintenance skills in the same person, and benchwork in conservation.

Chris Clarkson announced that he was leaving the Bodleian Library because of an almost complete cessation in funding, and going to West Dean College (see front page of October issue of this Newsletter). There he would start a three-year, full-time, graduate course with two sections: rare books, and contemporary binding and design.

Don Etherington said that the first year of the Institute of Fine Binding and Book Conservation at the University of Texas may well be its last, because it is not funded for next year. James Brockman had already taught eight students for two months in fine binding, and Tony Cains had eight students for conservation.

Mark Esser spoke very briefly about the two-year program at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, which covers 17th through 19th century binding techniques, cloth the first year and leather the second.

The Bookshelf Problem

In the 16th century, Chris Clarkson said, the bookshelf arrived from Italy, and books, which had been constructed for flat storage, and had been given squares only three centuries earlier, began to be stored vertically. Ever since then, they have sagged, lost their shape, and come loose at the hinges. Bookbinders have been unsuccessfully trying to cope with the dilemma ever since, adopting compromises like rigid spines that don't really address the problem.

The discussion returned again and again to this issue, in which squares seemed to be a big factor. They are necessary fudge factors, with today's working methods. In order to eliminate then, there would have to be tiptop craftsmen working on each book through the whole process.

Tony Cains suggested putting fore edge clasps, made of Velcro or something simple, on library bindings: books with squares used to always have clasps.

Horizontal shelving was advocated by Chris Clarkson and Nicholas Pickwoad. Mr. Clarkson said it was totally irresponsible now for an archives to build a new room for their historical books without a substantial amount of horizontal shelving. Mr. Pickwoad said that at Corpus Christi, they shelve all their manuscripts horizontally--in boxes, placed directly on the brackets, thus eliminating the need for shelves. The boxes are in five standard sizes.

Gary Frost proposed a new type of structure for library bindings, for use for upright shelving, which he must have thought up while he was sitting there. There was an outburst of applause when he finished describing its main features, which should be written out one day by him, be-cause they were so hard to record under time pressure, in the excitement of the moment. What he probably said was that this model would have a tough endsheet folio around both end sections, unsupported sewing, a headstrap for transmitting board leverage (make opening the cover start to open the text block), a linen spine liner, attaching a tough wrapper-type cover, and trimming flush. The board, if a hard cover is desired, need not be covered; "There are lots of colored boards on the market nowadays." It is treacherous to make a squareless book if your cloth is turned in.

More conventional measures were suggested by others: Case in flush to the tail, and just use smaller squares.

Theory And Promising Developments

Gary Frost's talk on structures for binding repairs began with a visual aid--a Slinky, to illustrate "continuity and equity of motion," especially cover-to-text attachment. The flow of pages in a well-bound book should start with the opening of the cover, which should pull the first few pages or part of the book with it, and not swing freely on its hinge.

Typical failures of structure are cords breaking in leather books, pages coming out of perfect-bound books, and endsheets giving out along the hinge. Instead of reattaching loose boards, he would change to a case binding. For paperbacks, he would stiffen their boards and sidesew them with elastic thread, or stabsew endsheets, going down three to five sections. He said this was done at Johns Hopkins, but Glen Ruzicka later made it clear that they never stab-sew endsheets at Johns Hopkins.

The inherent problem of cover-to-text attachment, he said, is the heavy covers, the nondurable cover-to-text attachment, and the presence of squares. The squares tend to damage cover-to-text attachment especially in book drops.

One of the last questions before the end of the conference was, 'What practical applications for today's library binding can pre-1500 AD binding methods serve?" Tony Cains said one useful method was tackets for repair; Roger Powell uses then. One post-1500 model was proposed: the English library bindings, bound by the Cockerell method with tight backs, split boards and so on. They are still in good shape from the 1920s and 1930s, even when heavily used.

Don Etherington said the flat back was good too, and eliminating squares. The library binding industry is discussing eliminating rounding and backing.

Someone asked the panel about increased use of technology in the mechanical steps of book repairing. Guy Petherbridge spoke favorably of leafcasting, and Bill Minter recommended staying with traditional methods. There was little interest in mass methods.

The Stabsewn Endsheet Issue

Gary Frost said he favored "unsewn" endpapers in repair, because sewing then on through the fold takes time. He advised stab sewing or modified oversewing to consolidate the text.

Randy Silverman objected to the practice of stabsewing endsheets, saying it was never necessary except for an over-sewn book. Mr. Frost advocated using all three types of endsheets: tipped, stabbed and sewn through the fold, depending on the nature, use and value of the book. For an undergraduate circulating collection, he felt they could all be stabbed or tipped on. Stabbed endsheets "transmit board leverage."

Chris Clarkson said they had done it in Florence, and it was all right if you have a tight hinge. Middleton does it. Although he, Clarkson, does not like it, there are few alternatives.

Tony Cains said that stabbed sewings (he was not talking about endsheets at the time) do last.

Miscellaneous Topics

Tony Cains described the bookbinding history of the Book of Armagh, an early 9th century Irish manuscript, written by St. Patrick himself; but his presentation loses so much in the retelling without the slides to illustrate it that the two articles about it will be mentioned instead: in Scriptorium in 1982 and Bibliologia in 1983.

Wooden boards and their possible damaging effect were discussed. Frank Mowery asked why oak was used when beech was much less likely to turn endpapers brown. Tony Cains said Roger Powell's books, which all have oaken boards, have lasted well, though some oak veneered boards in edition bindings will brown the paper. He always uses vellum fly-leaves. Beech, though less acidic, is notorious for insect damage. Chris Clarkson said there was never any browning until the 19th century; it had to be the alum in the paper.

Four of the panel members responded to a question about the relative advantages of inhouse vs. outside conservators. The disadvantage of inhouse conservation was the large investment necessary, an investment that may never pay for itself. The disadvantages of sending work out were more numerous, but the panel members did not seen to think they justified recommending against it. They were: 1) less control, more need to choose the conservator carefully, 2) reluctance of some institutions to send work out, 3) inadequate insurance coverage by insurance companies and post offices of material in transit, 4) the tendency of administrators to send work out without going through a rational process of selection for treatment, 5) the necessity of having an organizational procedure for contracts and other arrangements involved in sending work out, and 6) for important work, it may not be possible to have the dialog or to assemble the team needed for its treatment.

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