This article describes a simple and functional technique developed to address the all-too-common problem of books with detached spine fragments. It needs to be stressed that this technique is not intended to replace full conservation treatments, such as a skilled cloth or leather re-back, but it offers a rapid and cost-effective means of re-joining a book with its spine fragments for storage and use, especially for ‘low-priority’, yet historical, books and bindings.
This technique grew out of a project that involved the treatment – within tight time constraints – of 20 early printed books, whose partially detached spines and spine fragments were stored separately in labelled archival envelopes.
The spines and fragments were thick, stiff and brittle, and there was a risk that the envelopes could be misplaced in the future; so there was a clear need to securely store them with their respective books in some kind of protective enclosure. The books, however, were already housed in expensive drop-spine permanent boxes covered in buckram, and it was not economically realistic to replace these boxes simply to accommodate the extra bulk of wrappers and Mylar® pockets.
The spine-pocket wrapper
To reunite and house the books with their detached spine fragments, we designed a 75-micron Mylar® polyester film wrapper with an inner ‘spine pocket’ that holds the fragment(s) in place. This construction is flexible and allows easy access to fragments.
Tools and materials needed:
- 75-micron Mylar® polyester film
- Ultrasonic spot welder
- Teflon folder
- Large cutting mat
- Metal ruler
- Permanent pen or Post-its
Step 1: Making the Mylar® outer wrapper
(1) Measure the book:
- Height = a
- Width of the board = b (from shoulder/joint to fore-edge, NOT from spine to fore-edge)
- Thickness of the boards = c
- Width of the spine from shoulder to shoulder (the distance between the ends of the spine cover) = d
These measurements give us an initial estimate of the dimensions of the Mylar® sheet to be used; note, however, that adjustments might need to be made when positioning the sheet, due, for example, to asymmetries in the book.
(2) Cut the Mylar® sheet according to the pattern below. Note that the turn-ins should be somewhat shorter (approximately 3 mm) than the width of the book to avoid damaging the object at the gutters. This shorter dimension is denoted as e below.
(3) Place the book on the Mylar® sheet and gently mark the folding positions (don’t fold yet!) along the edges of the book with a Teflon folder. We recommend a Teflon, rather than a bone, folder to avoid micro-abrasions to the Mylar®. Always make sure to mark the fold lines’ positions using the actual book, as shown below. If the spine is flat, mark the folding lines at the shoulders. If the spine is rounded, the shoulder doesn’t need folds.
Set the book aside, and fold the sheet on a flat surface at the marked edges’ positions with the Teflon folder, and crease gently for the shoulder marks (d in the diagram above). Each fore-edge folding position (c in the diagram above) should have a well-defined crease (two for each fore-edge).
Step 2: Making the inner spine pocket
(1) Mark the Mylar® wrapper with vertical guidelines 5 mm inside the book shoulders on both boards. A permanent pen can be used and the line later removed with acetone; however, we prefer to mark the lines by placing a few Post-it notes on the Mylar®. These guidelines (in red on the figure below) indicate where to set the spine-pocket strips.
(2) Cut the Mylar® strip with the following dimensions: f *a, where f = d + 10 mm, and then cut it lengthwise into two strips of width f/2.
(3) In preparation for welding, place the prepared Mylar® wrapper flat on the desk with the inner side facing up.
(4) Set the outer edges of the spine-pocket strips along the guidelines on both sides (since Mylar® is transparent, we can see the Post-its/lines from the inside). This should leave a small gap between the two spine-pocket strips (see diagram below).
(5) The welding lines should be roughly 1 mm inside the edges of the two spine-pocket strips. Use a metal ruler to set the spot welder 1 mm inside the outer edges. This ruler also works as a weight to fix the spine-pocket strips in place. Start welding along the ruler.
For the octavo-size books involved in this project, the distance between each welding spot was roughly 20 mm, but as a general rule we recommend the following:
|Book size||Distance between welding spots|
The edges near the head and tail should be firmly welded, so the spots should be near the edges (~1 mm).
(6) Open the flaps and place the spine fragment(s) inside the pocket. Then cover the book with the wrapper.
This technique works for completely detached spines and can be adapted for both partially detached ones and fragments by shortening the length of the spine pocket (see Examples 2 and 3 below).
Example 1: completely detached spine
Example 2: partially detached spine
Example 3: multiple fragments
We recommend making separate flaps for multiple fragments. In this case, the flaps should slightly overlap (5-10 mm) to ensure that the shorter flaps stay in position.
The spine-pocket wrapper in action
Following her MA in Conservation of Books & Library Materials at West Dean College, Mito Matsumaru worked at the Wellcome Trust as a book conservation contractor in 2017. She is currently working as a book conservator at Cambridge Colleges’ Conservation Consortium.
Stefania Signorello received both a Diploma and a Degree in Fine Arts before moving to Florence in 1991 to study Book and Paper Conservation. She gained work experience in Rome, Florence, Milan, and Prague before moving to London in 1997. She has since worked at a number of institutions in the UK, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Theatre Museum, the Bodleian Library and the Oxford University Archives. Stefania has been an accredited member of the Icon Book and Paper (B&P) Group since 2001 and has served as both Deputy Chair and Chair for the group’s managing committee. She has been working as a conservator at the Wellcome Collection since 2003.