Many of us have personal libraries, and within those libraries the chance that we own a standard hardcover book is high. Modern case bindings (also known as hardcovers) are everywhere. These bindings are constructed from paper boards covered by a sturdy cloth or decorated paper, and the cover is generally made separately from the text block and attached later by endpapers.
Case bindings are made the same way now as they were made in the 1800s, and so often the problems I see with older books are the same problems that will eventually happen to the new book sitting on your shelf. In fact, it even happened to a friend’s copy of a recently bought Game of Thrones book!
Some mechanical problems that are frequently met in case bindings:
- Before the text block is out of the case you may find that the joints are loose and simply need to be tightened (I will cover this in more detail further down).
- The text block falls out of the case but the entire case is intact. This will require that the text block will need to be rehung in the case.
- If the text block has separated from the case, you could have text block problems or spine problems, and this will require re-backing the text block and possibly re-sewing.
- Damaged and weak corners on the board.
- The case is falling apart (as when the spine of the case has come away from the boards leaving the boards attached to the text block but the spine missing).
The most issue common with case bindings is joint problems. If you’re able to catch it in time, a little bit of PVA glue to tighten up the joints will go a long way in preserving your books and preventing them from falling apart.
Since the covers and text block are often held together only by endpapers, joint problems are the biggest issue we run into with standard hardcover books. There is little that can be done to prevent it: it’s simply going to happen eventually. Because the weight of the text block when the book is standing pulls downward on the spine and over time the end paper cannot hold it.
In the photograph below you can see the looseness of the joints. This, as I mentioned before, is an easy fix. It requires taking a skinny metal rod (perhaps cut from a clothes hanger), dipping the rod in PVA glue and then sliding it into the joint where the paper is coming loose. Once you’ve applied glue to the joints that need it, from the top and bottom if necessary, you press the book for a minute or so until the PVA is dry.
Photo credit: Arielle VanderSchans
Once the joints are tightened you can see that the paper now fits snuggly against the boards.
Photo credit: Arielle VanderSchans
This repair is quick and easy, and will help the book last longer, as you’re catching the joint problem before the paper can tear away from the boards completely (which would leave you with a detached text block!).
Another problem that can occur with case bindings is that if the end pages tear, the text block can come completely out of the case, or the spine of the case can tear and come completely off but the boards remain attached to the text block. Below is a photo that shows a text block detached from the case. This text block also had to be resewn.
Photo credit: Arielle VanderSchans
These fixes require a bit more work, from resewing the spine to re-backing and attaching a hollow tube on the text block. If your book reaches this state, consult a professional who can determine what steps are needed to repair the book.
Other common issues to look out for in book preservation are:
Mold can develop on any book and the risk of mold comes in areas of high humidity. If you’re worried about mold growing on your books, try to lower the humidity of the room to make the mold inactive. If you do find mold on one of your books, take it off the shelf and let the mold dry up. Small amounts of mold can be vacuumed up using the upholstery attachment of your vacuum. You can also wipe the bindings and text block edges with cheesecloth dipped in 70% alcohol and wrung out very well!
Dirt & Soot
A book can be easily cleaned of dirt, soot and dust by wiping it gently with a dry-cleaning sponge. You can also vacuum the book with the upholstery attachment. Start with the top of your book and wipe from the back of the book to the front, or the spine to the edge of the text block.
Keep an eye out for bugs like silverfish that commonly live in homes. Store your books off the floor to keep them away from silverfish that might live in the carpets. A few other tips for storiage to keep in mind:
- Store books that are the similar heights together; if they are 15 inches or less in height and of medium thickness store them standing upright but if they are taller or thicker lay them on their sides.
- Leather-covered books shouldn’t be stored next to cloth- or paper-covered books because the leather may stain the other books.
- Give your books room to breathe: don’t shelve them tightly together or it may cause distortion– but keep them close enough together so that they support each other.
These are just some of the things to keep in mind when working with hardcover books! Store them properly, take care of them, try to catch joint problems early on and your case binding will last a long time!
Brown, Michele. Preserving Books in Your Home Library. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library, PDF.
CBBAG: Repair & Restoration Workshop. Dan Mezza, London ON. January 2017.
Guest blogger Arielle VanderSchans is a linguist and librarian living in Canada. She currently studies bookbinding through the Canadian Bookbinding and Book Arts Guild. You can follow her as she learns the trade here: https://ariellesbindery.com
“I am not so regular in my sleep as the Doctor (Rush) says he was, devoting to it from five to eight hours, according as my company or the book I am reading interests me; and I never go to bed without an hour or half an hour’s previous reading of something moral, whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep.” (Jefferson, quoted in Boutell, 1891.)
Thomas Jefferson is known primarily as the Father of the Constitution and the third President, but he was also an ardent supporter, admirer, and reader of books. To him, books were far more than a pastime; they contributed to both a moral and democratic education. And Jefferson liked to read the classics in their original form, “in all the beauties of their originals” (Boutell, 1891, p. 40). It was Jefferson’s library of 6,487 works that replaced the Congressional Library when it was burned by the British in 1814 (for which he was paid $23,950), arguably making Jefferson also the Father of the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress has gathered together many of these original books (see also this video).
Jefferson carefully collected and curated his library, spending a summer or two in Parisian bookstores “turning over every book with my own hand, and putting by everything which related to America. . .” (Boutell, 1891, p. 42). Given the expense and effort required to develop a book collection, Jefferson’s was notable, and thought by many to be one of the largest in the country. We can imagine what Jefferson’s library might have looked like. Jefferson notes that “nearly the whole are well-bound” (p. 43). Jefferson’s library would have probably contained a combination of leather bound books with gold tooling; books still in their original plain paper wrappers temporarily sewn together until Jefferson could take them to his own binder; and books bound with stiff covers with adverts printed on them. One list of Jefferson’s books indicates that some were purchased “bound” while others had a “fancy binding” and still others were in “Boards” (Jefferson, 2011). A letter from Jefferson to Robert Skipwith tells of the books needed to put together a beginning library, and mentions that the binding of the books will result in varying costs. “These books if bound quite plain will cost the prices affixed in this catalogue. If bound elegantly, gilt, lettered, and marbled on the leaves, they will cost 20.p. Cent more. If bound by Bumgarden in fine Marbled bindings, they will cost 50.p. Cent more” (Boyd, 1950).
Jefferson engaged in some bookbinding of his own. In 1819 he created what has come to be known as the “Jefferson Bible”. He did not use the usual bookbinding strategies; instead he carefully removed pages from the Gospels in four languages (English, Latin, French and Greek) and glued them to paper. The 86-page presentation presents a multi-lingual history of Jesus’ life from an enlightenment perspective (no miracles, angels, saints or other-worldly contents were included). He sent his handmade creation on to Frederick August Mayo to be bound. A facsimile copy of the Bible was produced in 1902 and was presented to Senators on the day they took office until the copies ran out in 1957.
Bookbinding was clearly important to Jefferson in building his own collection, and it has also played an important role in preserving his works. His 1783 Book Catalog was bound and is preserved at the Massachusetts Historical Society. In 2000 the Society disbound, cleaned, deacidified, and repaired the volume using Japanese tissue paper and wheat paste, returning it to its original bound condition. The volume was also digitized at this time. The Government printing office rebinds Jefferson’s Manual for House of Representatives Procedures every two years, using some traditional methods, including marbling the manual’s edges, assembling leather covers, and gold stamping them. A recent bookbinding exhibit featured Thomas Jefferson’s Paris Walks, a book of Jefferson’s sketches and commentary, together with modern photographs, which was especially bound for the exhibit using traditional methods.
As we celebrate Jefferson’s 274th birthday, we can appreciate his passionate appreciation of books–and bookbinding. Binding provided the tools for projects like the Jefferson Bible, and the bound record of his large book collection. The utility of binding has preserved his work; the beauty of bindings delighted his eye–and ours.
Dr. Mary Vasudeva has a PhD in English and currently teaches writing and critical thinking at Diablo Valley College. She is also studying for her Masters in Library and Information Science at San Jose State University. Recent publications include a book review of Overcoming Information Poverty, by Anthony McKeown and selected writing sections for the textbook, Asking the Right Questions, in the forthcoming 12th edition.
Boutell, L. (1891). Thomas Jefferson, the man of letters. Chicago: Press of S. Thompson & Co. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/boutelljefferson00lewirich
Boyd, J. ed (1950). From Thomas Jefferson to Robert Skipwith, with a List of Books for a Private Library, 3 August 1771,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-01-02-0056. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760–1776. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 76–81.
Jefferson, T., & Looney, J. J. (2011). The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series: Volume 7: 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814. Princeton University Press.
Martin, R. (1988), Jefferson’s Bookmarks. Monticello Research Department. Retrieved from https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-bookmarks
An interesting article that briefly outlines the process that a rare book conservator is taking in the restoration of a rare 2 volume botanical guide. The guide “Figures of the Most Beautiful, Useful Plants Described in the Gardener’s Dictionary,” written by Philip Miller and published in 1760, is part of the University of Virginia’s colonial era collection.
Article from University of Virginia’s UVA Today
Here is a brief sketch of the development of the Japanese book binding trade from its early development to its commercial beginnings and eventual industrialization written by Dana Gee. The word in Japanese for bookbinding is seihon.
Papermaking was developed in China during the Han dynasty in the second century AD; the earliest recorded reference to papermaking in Japan was around 610 AD. The earliest “books” were calligraphed paper rolls. Beginning during the Tang dynasty period in China (618-907), Buddhist texts were folded accordion style, making the texts easier to handle, less fragile. The folded edges form the edges of the pages. This is called orihon in Japan, common up until the nineteenth century, and is still used. In addition to Buddhist sutras, this form was used for maps, calendars and some types of reference books. (more…)