New from the Glucksman Conservation Centre

Here’s something a bit different! Our conservation department (the Glucksman Conservation Centre) has had an intern, Katie Boodle, working with them during the summer. Katie is an MA Conservation student from Camberwell College of Art and she has been working on a special project to treat books with a particular type of binding.  Part of her treatment involved making a model book, and she very kindly wrote a post for the blog to tell us all about it.

Spring Back Binding

Even with the sheer amount of technology we have access to every day, we still use notebooks, planners, and ledgers to store some of our most important information—but have you ever stopped to wonder how books like these came about?

Blank books, also known as stationary bindings, were once as revolutionary as the technology we have access to today. Originally, these types of books were used in banks to keep track of money. Over time, though, they became used by people wanting to keep records of, well, pretty much everything. The problem with a lot of the early stationary bindings is that many of the books could not be laid flat since spines of the book were stiff with glue. This made it difficult to write in them. There was also some difficulty in making a book that did lie completely flat until the early 1800s when the spring back was created. Spring back bindings were found to be not only easy to write in, but they also had the advantage of being very durable.

One of the on-going projects in the GCC is the conserving of the University’s Student Records in the archives.  Almost all of these records are bound in the spring back style and are from the late 1800s. Many family historians come to special collections to use the ledgers and this, along with a long life of everyday use, has made them a bit worn down. Despite the damage to the covers, the bindings are whole and “spring” to lie flat when they are opened. As a conservation intern at the GCC, I was tasked with conserving two of these records, one of which is pictured below. The goal of the conservation was to stabilize both books so that they can continue to be used in the reading room.

An important part of conserving any object is understanding how it was created. This helps us ensure that we are not harming the objects further and that we treat them with as minimal intervention as possible. Since I had never worked on a spring back binding before, Brannah Mackenzie (the Book Conservator at GCC) and I decided that making a spring back would be the best way to understand the mechanism which allows this type of book to open flat.

Let’s have a look at how the whole book comes together:

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The first thing to do for any book is to make the text block. A text block is made by folding paper into multiple sections. Usually, one large sheet is folded down into eighths to make one section. The sections are then sewn together on linen tapes to make the text block.  The sewing method used on the spring back acts as a security measure to stop people from removing or adding pages and “cooking the books.” The needle goes underneath the thread of the section below it like so…

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….and intertwines the thread back on itself making it lock together. When the sewing is complete, it makes a zig-zagging ladder structure across the tapes.

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The book is then rounded using a flat hammer to knock it into shape and pasted to hold the curve.

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Now that the text block is made, we can start adding the pieces that will form the spring for the book. Spring back bindings open flat because there is a lever-like system that fits inside a hard spine and creates tension. A bit of board is cut down and attached to the text block to make the main part of the lever.

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Fabric is wrapped around the spine to cover the lever boards completely as an additional support and to add strength to the lever motion. Paper is then wrapped to enclose the whole thing and pressed together…

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…before it is cut down to complete the lever!

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Now that the text block and lever are complete, we need to make the rounded spine. Spring back spines were originally made out of metal, but eventually this fell out of practice. The metal made the books incredibly heavy and it was difficult to form into the proper shape. Looking for a solution, bookbinders turned to materials that they had on hand, choosing to join many sheets of craft paper or board with paste instead. We made the spine by pasting three boards together and damping them. The boards were then worked around a wooden dowel to create the round and wrapped up tight.

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Once the spine piece had dried completely, we cut it so that it was only slightly larger than the text block. The spine was then placed on the text block to check that it followed the curve.

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To tighten the spine piece so that it firmly grips the text block and helps the lever function, we pinched the edges of the spine piece inward with a clamp until it fit snugly on the text block. The spine piece was then attached to the text block with paste and fabric.

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Now the last thing needed to make the spring back work is the boards. Two boards are pasted together, with one side left open. The boards are slotted onto the lever on the open side and marked into position. Paste is then put into the open part of the boards and the lever is slipped in between them.

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The book is placed in the press for several hours to make sure everything sticks together. And when it comes out we have a fully functioning spring back binding!

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Posted by: Katie

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