This article is about the leather spine reback of a two-volume set. The original spine tooling design was closely copied on the new spines.
Another job that came in over the summer was a magnificent two volume quarto-sized edition of Pope’s Works. The set was bound in contemporary full panelled calf with a full gilt spine. With calf-bound books of this size and period it is often possible to remove and re-use the spines. On smaller books of the same period, the spine leather is too thin to allow removal without the spine crumbling.
Problems with spine removal
Unfortunately in this instance, that wasn’t the case. The bookbinder who had tooled the original spines had overheated the various decorative tools used in the gold tooling process. As a result, many of the impressions had burnt right through the spine leather. This had perforated both of the spines many times over. In turn, this made the removal of the spines almost impossible.
Leather spine rebacking process
A leather spine reback was carried out on the two volumes using calf skin as per the original binding material. The original design of the gold tooled spines was closely copied onto the new spines and then aged. The edges of the covers and corners were then consolidated to a hardened finish. Following this, the inside hinges were repaired with paper to match the original endpapers. Finally, a preservative leather dressing was applied to both of the bindings.
It is not unusual to have to replicate the original spine design when restoring the spines of 18th century books. More often than not, their spines cannot be removed and re-used. When this has to be done, the original design is replicated as closely as possible.