Richard Nichols, Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent Archive and Heritage Service
Ed. note: this paper re-creates a talk and practical demonstration given during the ‘Stationery Bindings: History, Development and Treatment’ workshop, organised by the Icon B&PG Co-Operative Training Register and the Archives and Records Association, on 4 February 2013.
During the course of the training day, we investigated the history and development of stationery bindings in all their forms and from their earliest beginnings. The evolution of these bindings eventually led to the development of the Spring Back Account Book, patented by the Williams brothers in 1799.
We have seen in detail all of the processes that go into the binding of such a book. I am sure you will agree it is rewarding to become familiar with the features of the spring back binding, because examples are so prevalent in collections of archives from the last two hundred years. Its structure is led by its usage – the need to function efficiently day-in, day-out for as long as it is in use, which could mean many decades of heavy wear and tear. From the ‘throw up’ of the pages, to the marbled text block edges, to the ‘underbands’, the laced ‘overbands’, the Russia bands and all the special strengthening features that are added to an ‘extra binding’, there is much to observe and enjoy! However, the special features can make it a daunting task for the conservator when considering treatment for these bindings.
There are two forms of damage specific to spring back bindings that will prevent the spring back from operating as it is designed to. These are:
- Damage or loss of the spring hollow and its attachment to the levers.
- Damage to the levers and or the joint attaching the levers to the text block.
Both of these conditions will render the spring back inoperable and therefore the binding will lose the characteristics of its genre, i.e. it will not ‘throw up’ the pages and hold them open as a level writing surface.
When it comes to preservation and conservation measures for bindings, it is important that the options of non-intervention or minimal intervention should be considered first. Many account books have no intrinsic value in their physical form; they are retained purely for the information they hold, and preservation can effectively be achieved with correct storage and packaging measures. However there are occasions when it is required that a binding should be reinstated into its original working condition; the volume is an artefact as well as a repository.
Examples from the Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent Archive & Heritage Service are the original pattern books from pottery companies such as Spode and Wedgewood. These volumes are unique and valuable, as they record not only the business of the company but also contain original art work by famous designers. Furthermore, users of the Archive Service regularly access them. It is important that they are returned to their original working order and it is desirable that they are re-backed in material to match the original, whether it is leather, reverse calf or vellum etc. Before re-backing it is essential that all the mechanical components of the binding are present and working correctly, i.e. that the levers, the joints and the spring hollow are all sound.
My demonstration was the repair of a damaged lever and the manufacture of a spring hollow for this volume, a ‘Cash Account’ book from the 1950s:
On this volume, the lever has become flexible over time, resulting in a ‘hinge’ movement at the edge of the board. The effect of this is that the lever would not push the spring hollow off the spine effectively as it is designed to do (if the spring hollow were present). Levers are prone to damage, as they are made from relatively thin board compared to that of the main covering board of the volume. The technique for repair of a lever is simply to open the split board with a bone folder and introduce a new piece of thin board that is glued on top of the existing lever. The board chosen in this case is a cross-grain strip of Archival Folding Boxboard. This is pared thin on the leading edge that goes into the split board (Photo 1).
To make a new spring hollow it is necessary to have a roller the same diameter as the thickness of the text block (including the levers and leather clothings). Onto the roller is attached a square of Tyvek (Photo 2).
For a slim volume such as this I am using one thickness of Archival Folding Boxboard 1000 micron thick, long grain, four layers of archival Kraft and animal glue as adhesive (Photo 3).
The new hollow will be approximately 50mm longer than the volume and will be cut to size later when attached to the book. The board and Kraft paper are glued out and the Kraft is wrapped around the board four times. This assembly is then rolled tightly onto the roller by means of the Tyvek. It then needs to be thoroughly ‘worked’ until it forms a natural shape that is retained even when removed from the roller (Photo 4). Finally, the edges of the hollow need to be worked to curl inwards, forming more of a ‘C’ shape than just the semicircle that they were when they came off the roller. The hollow is set aside to dry.
When the hollow is dry, strips of aero linen are glued inside to attach it to the volume. Once again the split board is opened, allowing the aero linen to be glued inside. The split board can now be glued and closed (Photo 5).
The final operation on the hollow is to cut it to length and to shape the head cap. The hollow is cut with shears to about two millimetres above the height of the boards and tapers down slightly towards the joint. It is then moistened with a sponge and tapped into shape with the handle of a pair of bookbinders shears (Photo 6).
It is important that the ends of the hollow are still moist and pliable at the time of covering so that they are easily manipulated underneath the new leather into a well-formed head cap (Photo 7).
The volume can now be rebacked with suitable matching material in the normal way (Photo 8).