Modeling History: Making a Stiff-Board Parchment Binding with a Slotted Spine

This post comes from the 2012 Gladys Brooks conservation intern, Morgan Adams. Morgan is currently interning in the Thaw Conservation Center at the Morgan Library & Museum

As the 2012 Gladys Brooks intern I had the pleasure of working with Senior Book Conservator Anne Hillam on a model of a stiff-boards parchment binding with a slotted spine, a style seen commonly in Italian bindings of the 16th-17th centuries.

An example of a stiff-boards parchment binding with a slotted spine from the NYAM collection: Trincavello, De differentiis febrium, Venice, 1585. Left: Back cover and spine. Right: Front cover.

An example of a stiff-boards parchment binding with a slotted spine from the NYAM collection: Trincavello, De differentiis febrium, Venice, 1585. Left: Back cover and spine. Right: Front cover.

A unique feature of this binding is the juxtaposition of the parchment and alum-tawed skin used to cover the book’s spine. Slots cut in the parchment across the spine reveal the alum-tawed skin patches covering the sewing supports. It is a combination with structural as well aesthetic advantages: The alum-tawed skin provides the flexibility necessary to conform to the raised sewing supports, while the parchment provides a more durable surface to protect the bulk of the spine.

Trincavello (1585): Detail of spine showing the alum-tawed skin patch adhered over sewing support. The original color of the patch can be seen where the parchment is split along the shoulder of the spine.

Trincavello (1585): Detail of spine showing the alum-tawed skin patch adhered over sewing support. The original color of the patch can be seen where the parchment is split along the shoulder of the spine.

To prepare for this binding, we made detailed examinations of six books printed in Venice between 1508 and 1585 in the NYAM special collections. In conjunction with Sylvia Pugliese’s study of this binding style at the National Library Marciana in Venice, we selected material and structural features that exemplified the binding style. These features are highlighted in the images below, which show the steps of the binding process and the finished model.

The text block is sewn on three laminated alum-tawed supports.

The text block is sewn on three laminated alum-tawed supports.

Left: The text block is rounded and backed and the spine is lined with parchment. Endbands are sewn through the spine lining on twisted alum-tawed skin supports.

Left: The text block is rounded and backed and the spine is lined with parchment. Endbands are sewn through the spine lining on twisted alum-tawed skin supports. Right: Galen, Omnia quae extant in Latinum sermonem convsera, Venice, 1556, detail of the spine showing an endband, parchment spine lining, and one sewing station.

Left: Endbands seen from above. Right: Galen (1556) detail of the front bead endband sewn in red and white thread.

Left: Endbands seen from above. Right: Galen (1556) detail of the front bead endband sewn in red and white thread.

Left: The sewing supports are laced into the boards and then covered in alum-tawed skin patches. The endband cores are also laced into the boards. Right: Trincavello (1585), detail showing the "arrow-point" shaping of the alum-tawed skin patch underneath the parchment and the endband core that has been laced through the board and trimmed off flush with the board.

Left: The sewing supports are laced into the boards and then covered in alum-tawed skin patches. The endband cores are also laced into the boards. Right: Trincavello (1585), detail showing the “arrow-point” shaping of the alum-tawed skin patch underneath the parchment and the endband core that has been laced through the board and trimmed off flush with the board.

A template is prepared for cutting the slots in the parchment. The binding is now ready to be covered.

A template is prepared for cutting the slots in the parchment. The binding is now ready to be covered.

After the parchment cover is adhered, ties are laced through the boards at the fore-edge, head and tail. The parchment spine linings are adhered to the interior face of the board and the endsheet is pasted down.

After the parchment cover is adhered, ties are laced through the boards at the fore-edge, head and tail. The parchment spine linings are adhered to the interior face of the board and the endsheet is pasted down.

Trincavello (1585), The surface of the pastedown reveals the ends of ties formerly  laced through the board.

Trincavello (1585), The surface of the pastedown reveals the ends of ties formerly laced through the board.

Finished model, complete with ties on fore-edge, head, and tail.

Finished model, complete with ties on fore-edge, head, and tail.

[1] Sylvia Pugliese, “Stiff-Board Vellum Binding with Slotted Spine: Survey of a Historical Bookbinding Structure,” in Papier Restaurierung – Mitteilungen der IADA, Vol. 2 (2001), Suppl., S. 93-101.

Looking for that je ne sais quoi : the conservation of Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré

By Christina Amato, Book Conservator

NYAM conservator Christina Amato removes a damaged and ill-suited spine from a 1633 copy of Paré’s Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré/

NYAM conservator Christina Amato removing a damaged and ill-suited spine from a 1633 copy of Paré’s Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré

Many books come through the Gladys Brooks Book and Paper Conservation lab, and often they receive minimal stabilization, or are rehoused in new boxes or folders. Occasionally one comes through that is in need of an entirely new binding, and requires some research before getting started.

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Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré, before treatment. Click to enlarge.

This copy of Paré’s Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré came to the lab in rather sorry shape; it is a 17th century book that had been rebound at some point in its past. The new binding, or cover, was clearly made centuries after the book was created, and was damaged to the extent that handling the book was very difficult.  The usual practice in conservation is to use as many of the original parts as possible when repairing a book; in this case, however, the binding was not only heavily damaged, but inappropriate, so the decision was made to make a new binding for the book.

What kind of binding would be appropriate for a 17th century French book? Beyond historical appropriateness, we had to consider the functionality of the new binding as well. It is a rather large, heavy book; what would be best for a book of this size? How often would this book be used? How would it be stored?

We began with the first question of historical appropriateness. We are lucky to have access to the library’s rare book collection, and were able to find other books from the same time period and location, and study their bindings.  We also made use of our large collection of books about binding history, researched other libraries on-line bindings databases, and talked to colleagues.

Models of "semi-limp vellum" bindings

Models of “semi-limp vellum” bindings. Click to enlarge.

With these things in mind, we decided to explore the possibility of making a variation of what is called a “semi-limp vellum” binding.  Such bindings are commonly used in conservation, for their historical appropriateness and functionality.  With a little digging, a picture started to emerge for us of a typical French, 17th century vellum binding.  We did not find a lot of details about how these bindings were made, however.  It was very helpful to make a few small models before tackling the original book, to work out these details, and try variations to understand differences in functionality.

With all the knowledge we acquired from these models, and from our research, we can now approach this treatment with confidence. Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré will have a well-thought out new binding which is faithful to its time period, and will protect it well, for years to come. Check back to read about the final stages of treatment and see pictures of the book in its new binding.

On Teeth, Tools, and Boxes

By Anne Hillam, Conservator

Following a recent upgrade of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the special collections storage facilities at NYAM, the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory received a group of artifacts associated with George Washington for stabilization:  (1) a plaster-cast facsimile of George Washington’s lower denture (the original, which is made of hippopotamus ivory, is currently on loan to Mount Vernon through June of 2013), and (2) a collection of dental tools (constructed out of hand-forged metal and bone and/or ivory) made and used by Washington’s dentist, Dr. John Greenwood (1760 – 1819).

plaster-cast facsimile of George Washington’s lower denture

Facsimile of Washington’s lower denture

9 ivory-handled dental instruments in custom fit tray

Greenwood’s ivory tools

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Proper housing is an important element in the overall preservation of any artifact.  By protecting objects from improper handling and adverse environmental conditions (including light, water, dust, and pollutants), boxes and other types of protective enclosures — especially when made using pH neutral and chemically inert materials – can add decades to the life of an artifact.

In this case, the conservator’s custom-made boxes allow for easy access and display of the objects during tours and exhibitions.  Interior trays easily lift out of the structural exterior boxes, preventing the need to touch the objects themselves.

Facsimile denture in custom-made clamshell box

Custom-made box housing facsimile denture

If you take a close look at the denture, you will see engravings. They were made by Dr. Greenwood and read:  “This was Great Washingtons Teeth” and “First one made by J. Greenwood,” accompanied by the date 1789.  Several of the tools also carry an engraved message (albeit a slightly more ominous one):  ”[D]on’t touch these instruments.”  Thanks to their new box, it is now easy to honor Dr. Greenwood’s wish!

Close up of Washington's lower denture showing engraving saying "This was Great Washingtons teeth"

Original denture with engraving

The tools and the denture facsimile are all beautifully made and are now securely housed and preserved among NYAM’s special collections.  You can arrange for a tour to see the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room and some of NYAM’s many treasures by contacting history@nyam.org.

– The Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory

Fore-edge painting lecture and workshop

Fore-edge of book fanned to reveal fore-edge painting of William HarveyWe are thrilled about the upcoming Guild of Book Workers‘ events to be hosted at NYAM. Fore-edge painter Martin Frost is giving a lecture on October 19th and teaching a workshop on October 20th.

Seen at left, the NYAM copy of De Arthritide by John Booth, 1805, features a fore-edge painting of William Harvey.

For more information about either event or to register, please email newyork@guildofbookworkers.org.