My favourite tool – not to be confused with my most useful tool – is an old bone-folder. I inherited it when working at a trade bindery in London. The original owner of the tool remains unknown and it is likely that it was used by many hands before it came down to me. Based on the colour, patina and provenance I would guess that it dates from the early 20th century, though it is difficult to date accurately. What makes it unique is the particular way in which it has been worn. At each end, and on both sides, there is a scalloped edge formed by repeated use, day after day, on many thousands of books. The shape indicates that this folder was used for rubbing down rounded spines of books (something I use it for today), and the bias in the wear even tells us that it was used by right-handed binders.
This tool sums up much of what interests me about conservation: it is a unique, hand-made and functional object, but it is also testament to the thousands of everyday books that were made by anonymous craftsmen and women. The tool that I use the most (the one that I pick up on a daily basis) is a small 150mm stainless steel ruler… useful, but not my favourite.
Arthur Green owns and runs Green’s Books, a private book conservation studio in Oxfordshire. He began working as a bookbinder in 2003 and graduated from Camberwell in 2008 with a Postgraduate Diploma in Conservation. He has worked at the Bodleian Library and the Oxford Conservation Consortium, amongst others, and is interested in the history of the book and its structural development.