Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Super Size Me: The Book Conservation Variety, Part 3 (of 3)

In our final post of this three part series about this conservation treatment, we will review covering the book in leather, reapplying the original label, and blind tooling a panel on the front and back covers. Previously mentioned in Part 1, The Royal Commentaries of Peru (RCP) by Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616), published in 1688, arrived in Preservation Services having already received a number of repairs. For that reason, it was determined that the best way to stabilize and improve the function of this book was to remove it from the original binding and rebind it in a new leather cover.

The Royal Commentaries of Peru before and after treatment

And, as mentioned in Part 2, there are many steps to preparing a book to be covered in leather. In the case of RCP, those steps included mending almost all of the pages, resewing the text sections on cords, adding new endpapers, resewing endbands, and several other time-consuming tasks. (See Part 1 and Part 2 for those steps) This is the sort of work we very much enjoy doing but for which we do not always have the time.

The dampened leather is adhered first to the spine
and worked around the raised cords before
smoothing onto the covers.
One of the first steps for covering a book in leather, after the many steps mentioned in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, is to pare the leather. A piece of leather, in this case, calf leather, is cut to the size of the book plus about an inch extending beyond the head, tail, and fore edge of the book (top, bottom, and edge opposite the spine). The leather is then pared with a special knife to bevel or thin the edges to aid in turning the leather in around the cover boards. For a quick video on what leather paring is, click HERE to see conservator and toolmaker Jeff Peachey (to see Peachey's tools, click HERE) demonstrate on a scrap piece of leather. Once the leather is pared, paste is prepared and all the necessary tools are set out in easy reach of the binder. The binder needs to work fairly quickly once the leather is pasted out, so it is helpful to have all the appropriate tools at hand.

The leather is moistened with water using a soft sponge or cotton on the hair side (the side that had hair on it when it was sourced from an animal). On the flesh side of the leather (the side that faced the inside of the animal from which it was sourced), paste is applied, scraped away, and reapplied in stages. The moisture from both the water and the paste makes the leather more malleable as it is applied to the book. However, it also makes the leather susceptible to scarring or bruising while it is dampened, so the binder must take care not to damage the leather in the binding process.

The book rebound in new leather before the decorative panel was inscribed

The leather is first applied to the spine of the book and worked down around the raised cords. From there, it can be laid down on each cover. The binder then works at the head and tail of the book, with the covers open and the textblock upright and perpendicular to the table surface, to turn the leather in around the edges of the boards and form the endcaps (a bit of leather that protrudes at the head and tail of the spine and curves over the text minimally to protect the end band). It is difficult to document covering a book in leather while doing so as the binder must stay focused and work quickly. For a rough overview of the process, click HERE to watch a video of covering a book in leather.

The original label was readhered to the new leather spine
After the book was covered in the leather and had ample time to dry, the original label (that was lifted as the book was removed from its original cover) was reapplied. While the facing tissue is still on the label, the label can be adhered to the new spine leather. Once dry, the facing tissue was removed with a thin coat of Klucel-G (a leather consolidant that worked like an adhesive to hold the tissue to the face of the label without damaging it).

The final step was to create a panel pattern on the front and back covers similar to the design on the original covers. A simple way to create a design on leather is to take advantage of the issue mentioned earlier: leather is easily scarred or bruised when dampened. After determining the basic rectangular design, a cardstock template was created to simplify the process of keeping the design parallel to the edges of the book. The cover was dampened, the template laid in place, and a bone folder was used to impress the lines in the damp leather. Once dry, the lines appear slightly darker because the leather was purposefully bruised with the folder while damp. Once one cover was dry, the book was flipped over and the same design was applied to the back cover.

A template was used as a guide to impress decorative lines on the cover while the leather was dampened

After its extended stay in Preservation Services for stabilization and rebinding, The Royal Commentaries of Peru was returned to our Rare Books collection and will be available for use by researchers and classes for many years to come. To read more about the process of treating this book, visit Part 1 and Part 2 of this three part series.

The cover leather was dampened to impress the lines. On the left,
it was still very damp. On the right it was beginning to dry