This article is about leather spine repair on a set of books.
Over the last month, amongst others I’ve been working on a 6 volume early set of Morris’s British Birds. The set is a family heirloom of a customer in West Sussex. Multi-volume sets are always slightly challenging to repair as once repaired, every volume has to completely match the others.
Repairing multi-volume sets
The set’s covers were worn but all in reusable condition. However, the spines were not only unusable, they weren’t there at all! All 6 volumes had lost their spines over the passage of time and all that remained were the spine linings, Consequently, all 6 volumes were in need of leather spine repair. An interesting challenge though, as there was no reference for what the original spines might have looked like. Many of the original endpapers were covered in sellotape marks, so they needed replacing too.
The endpapers were of the classic mid-19th century one-colour coated paper, so were easy to substitute with new ones. I made these from one of the range of Hewitt’s ‘Bible’ papers, produced specifically to emulate 19th century endpapers. These were laminated with a cream wove paper that toned well with the original text block paper stock.
Victorian half-calf binding style
From the look of the covers, the set appeared to have originally been bound in what might be termed a ‘mid-price’ binding. A few online reference pictures of similarly bound sets gave me an idea of how this set may have looked when new. I decided to go for a gold and blind-tooled spine with double spine labels set around 5 raised bands.
With much precise measuring, I managed to get all the spines to match at every stage of the job. Tooling the spines involved a sweaty stint standing over a hot gold-finishing stove on a couple of the hottest days of the summer. The result was worth it though, as all 6 spines matched up in an authentic Victorian style. This put the books back into a presentable condition where they won’t fall to bits whilst being handled.
Sadly, I forgot to photograph them before I started the work, but here’s a few photos of the books once repaired.
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