Treatment Techniques for Bound Materials

Back in Feburary I posted a little bit about one of the classes I took this semester, Treatment Techniques for Bound Materials. Now that the semester is over, I thought I’d share a little bit more about what I created and learned in the class.

The original binding of the ‘Three Musketeers’ book, lovingly repaired with packing tape.

As I mentioned last time, the class started out with learning how to build books from scratch in an effort to understand how books are made so that we could better understand how to repair them. I made a couple of more books over the course of the semester, but I think the best skillset I learned in the class was how to recase paperback books whose covers had come apart. I certainly have a fair few of those on my shelves at home! For the purposes of learning and not mucking up something that has sentimental value or would be hard to replace, I started with a $2 copy of The Outlaw of Torn by Edgar Rice Burroughs that I bought in 2007 to take on a backpacking trip to England and Ireland (this was in the pre-iPad days when I was still hauling paperbacks around on holidays) and a standard Penguin paperback edition of The Three Musketeers that I bought when I was about 10 and which was definitely quite the worse for wear.

The new cover and fake bookplate of the ‘Three Musketeers’ rebind.

The method for rebinding a paperback is really quite simple: you pull off the covers, cut off the old spine on a purpose-built machine and then put the textblock in a vice, after which you fan the book out in both directions and slather PVA glue on it until the glue covers the spine and creates a new adhesive. Then you build a case and glue the text block in. Easy, right? ;)

It’s really not so bad, but my first attempt, on The Outlaw of Torn, was quite messy—I managed to get glue on the head and tail of the text block, which meant the pages stuck together when the glue dried. I also didn’t do a great job in creating the case: the binder’s boards warped, I ended up with more book cloth on the spine than I wanted (and it ended up crooked, to boot), and the paper that I’d chosen for the cover (a beautiful but delicate Japanese paper with gold vines) was so delicate that the glue dampened it to the point where it rubbed or was stained. The final product isn’t awful, and for a first attempt I think it was quite good, but my second attempt turned out much better.

The front cover of the rebound ‘Three Musketeers.’

My old and much loved copy of The Three Musketeers ended up rebound in paper that had a map of Paris in the late 1800s printed on it. I cut sections out of the paper that roughly lined up with places I knew featured in the book so that I’d have a map to hand on future re-readings and could follow d’Artagnan’s progress through the French capital. I also cut the coat of arms of the city out of the bottom corner to make a fake bookplate for the front pastedown.
The new case ended up being perfect, and it’s probably the best case and case-in that I did all semester. I managed to glue the text block into the case without ending up with anything crooked, and the whole thing just looks gorgeous. I’m really proud of it, and now I want to re-do all of my paperbacks!

One of our final projects for the semester was to collect a variety of technique descriptions into a treatment manual that would serve as our go-to resource in the future. I decided to collect web links to tutorials and videos in an account on delicious.com, which I am very pleased to share with you all. I hope some of you find it interesting to browse through the different methods for fixing common book problems! And, as I mentioned last time, pictures of most of the repairs I made in this class are available on Flickr. Enjoy!

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Bookmaking: Part Two!

This blog started out with the story of how I made my own manuscript book because after studying medieval manuscript and book creation methods in a classroom for my first master’s degree, I thought that actually putting some of them into practice would help me get a better appreciation for how to talk about books from a codicological standpoint. And it did! My little copy of part of Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess really helped me understand the steps that books go through as they’re being made.

This semester I’m taking a course in the UT School of Information’s conservation department called “Treatment Techniques for Bound Materials,” and the first seven weeks of class have been devoted to making our own book from the ground up.

My bookbinder's toolkit.

My bookbinder’s toolkit.

It’s exciting work and I love every minute of it! I’ve uploaded pictures and information about the steps I’ve gone through to a Flickr album.

Our next portion of the class will be dedicated to rebinding books, particularly paperbacks that had especially cheap bindings. I’ve picked two of my favourite paperback books that are in serious need of a new binding: a copy of The Outlaw of Torn by Edgard Rice Burroughs that I bought for $2 and which is coming completely unglued from its current covering; and my first copy of Dumas’ Three Musketeers, which has been repaired with packing tape several times already. I’ve picked up some lovely papers for their news covers, and I’m excited to start working on them next week.

Medieval Manuscripts Fragments as Binding Materials, a New Project at the Harry Ransom Center

A medieval manuscript text used as the binding material of a 1561 copy of Aesop’s Fables. Image from the Ransom Center Fragments Project’s Flickr.

Medieval and early modern people were great re-users.  The concept of processing used materials into new products to prevent the waste of expensive materials wasn’t an unusual or extraordinary idea to them: times were tough and in the business of manuscripts and books, materials were expensive and could be hard to come by.  There wasn’t a sense of uniqueness or the desperate need to preserve for future generations, as there is today, so parchment manuscripts that we might consider priceless today were scraped clean to have new manuscripts written upon them.

As horrifying as it sounds to us postmodern peoples, for whom any scrap of medieval manuscript text has enormous value, in the early modern period medieval parchment manuscripts were unbound, sliced, diced, chopped, and julienned to be re-used in the bindings of newer, “better” printed books.  Parchment was an ideal material for strengthening a book’s spine as a liner, or for use as an easy, cheap cover or endpaper.  Indeed, some scholars believe it was common practice to dismantle a manuscript book into such “manuscript waste” fragments once the book had been set out in type and printed.  We can be thankful the Winchester Malory manuscript of Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur did not meet this fate, as it spent several years sitting around William Caxton’s printing shop while he worked on his printed edition.

Since the practice of using and re-using manuscript waste was so prevalent, it’s not all that surprising to find bits and pieces of medieval manuscripts tucked into early modern books held by research libraries around the world, and it seems like cataloguing, describing, digitizing and exhibiting such finds is becoming more and more popular: two years ago, the Yale Law Library created an exhibit around 150 medieval manuscript fragments in early modern law books in their collections, called Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings.

Closer to home (and my heart), the Harry Ransom Center is beginning a project of cataloguing, describing, and digitizing the medieval manuscript fragments in their collections.  Conducted by Micah Erwin (who recently discovered the impression of a pair of medieval spectacles on such a fragment, as I mentioned here on my blog), the project aims to survey the fragments and share  knowledge and awareness of them with other medieval manuscript scholars and librarians:

The Harry Ransom Center’s on going project to survey manuscript waste in their book collections. It is managed by Micah Erwin, Project Archivist, and supervised by Joan Sibley, Senior Archivist in the Archives and Visual Materials Cataloging Department.  The Harry Ransom Center is currently conducting a survey of medieval manuscript fragments and binder’s waste found in the Book Collection. We are posting low resolution images of some of these fragments on Flickr and Facebook to share with others. We would be grateful for any comments and/or additional information that you would like to contribute about these items.

It’s an exciting project to me, personally, as it draws on both my love of medieval manuscripts and my dream of using the resources made available to scholars and librarians by social media sites such as Flickr and Facebook to connect researchers to materials so that knowledge and understanding can grow out of such connections.  It’s the perfect example of my idea of book archaeology in the digital age!  By working collaboratively to identify the fragments, we can possibly learn more about early modern bookbinders and the spread of early modern books.

The first step, of course, is getting awareness of the project out there, and that’s what I’m hoping to help with!  Please consider liking the project’s Facebook page and sharing it on your timeline, or tweeting and retweeting the link to the project’s Flickr page!

Bookbinders Are Crazy (And I Apparently Have a Lot to Live Up To)

First off, let’s just pretend the last month didn’t happen, okay?  Turns out getting back into graduate school involves a lot of life restructuring and a lot of relearning how to be disciplined (and also a lot of relearning about what a “criticism” about a reading is).  The good news is the semester’s half way over.  The bad news is the semester’s half way over.  Expect continued sporadic updates until early December, but then you have such topics to look forward to as “learning with new technology 2,” “should librarians really have special master’s degrees?” and “marginalia from the 14th century to my notebooks.”

For today, here’s some interesting tidbits on bookbinders from some of my Studies in the Book Arts readings:

Binders as individuals are not without interest—for example, Jean de Planche, binder and bigamist; Roger Payne, whose ‘reputation has been enhanced by his partiality for strong drink and his elaborate, not always truthful, bills’; Christopher Plantin, whose binding career ended in a brawl with a drunken nobleman; and Thomas Elliott, who revenged himself on a complaining client by incorporating the letters of his own name into the design of two bindings!1

The same reading goes on to explain that some bookbinders were archbishops like Saint Osmund and that Roger Payne, my new hero,  did not trust his patrons to sufficiently appreciate his genius.

Seems like bookbinders are pretty volatile and awesome people, and I’m proud to be among their number even if my poor coptic binding lacks any finishing (… still, I mean it’s only been a year) and I’m not a bigamist. ;)

1 – From P. J. M. Marks’ The British Library Guide to Bookbinding History and Techniques

Binding and Sewing

And now: the binding.

I’m binding my book by the coptic method, which involved using two different strings and sewing.  I am bad at sewing, so this was quite an endeavour.  The first step was to punch holes in the pages using an awl and a guide sheet:

After which I sewed each set of pages in:

In retrospect, I wish I had chosen other colours than sage green and blue, but oh well.

An Experiment: Prelude

The following posts were originally written as short picture-posts on my Tumblr.  I am updating, rewriting and consolidating them here.

A few weeks ago I signed up for a six-week course on papermaking and bookbinding at the Southwest School of Art and Craft in San Antonio, Texas.  I didn’t really have a clear idea at the time of what I wanted to do with the class — I was under the impression we’d make some blank paper and bind it and call it a notebook.  It turns out the scope of the class is to make an entire, finished book with imagery and color.  This is a pretty tall order for six weeks, and became even more so when I determined what I am going to do:

I am going to create an illuminated manuscript.

This blog is going to allow you to follow my descent into madness the progress of this endeavor.  Over the course of the next six weeks I hope to learn the intimate details of the creation of the manuscripts I’m making it my job to study.  I hope you all learn something too.