A Family Bible—Part II

Welcome back to the wonderful world of family Bible conservation! I expect you, loyal readers, have all been waiting with bated breath for the sequel to Mariko's first post about our hefty project. If you haven't read hers yet, go back and do so here. So, for your reading pleasure …

Since we last posted, we've done a lot of work on this volume. After analysis confirmed that our metal furniture was indeed brass, we needed to do a couple of things: first, since some of the metal had become bent out of shape through use, we wanted to get it back into its proper shape; second, we had to get it cleaned and waxed to stabilize the metal and prevent future corrosion before reattaching it to our boards. With help from the Metals department, we carefully used a small hammer to encourage the brass to resume its original shape, regularly checking the fit with the boards. One of the clasps only worked with difficulty; it appeared that it had been that way since it was manufactured as there was a bulge of metal rubbed shiny. To improve the function, we carefully filed away some of the brass until the clasp worked smoothly.

For cleaning the furniture, we used IMS (industrial methylated spirits) and then applied a thin layer of microcrystalline wax to protect the surface from oxidation. To get an even coating, we heated the metal furniture with a hot air gun until it was just this side of too hot to touch, then applied the wax with a stiff brush. All of this work was done prior to reattaching the boards because we needed to make sure the clasps would attach properly after the boards were back on-it would have been quite a mess to have done the work and then find the clasps wouldn't close!

With the reshaping of the brass furniture, we found that the holes in the metal where small nails held the furniture on to the boards no longer matched up with the existing holes in the boards; in addition, one of the reasons some of the metal was detached was because the nails had broken or corroded away, allowing the furniture to come off and leaving bits in the holes. To counter both of these factors, we filled the holes that needed to be redone or remade altogether with a Furniture department trick: we trimmed some bamboo sticks to the appropriate size, inserted some Paraloid B-72 adhesive (ethyl methacrylate copolymer, a synthetic resin) into the holes, and then tapped the bamboo sticks into the holes with a small hammer, expanding the bamboo and forcing it to fill the space. Once dry, we trimmed the bamboo away and then used a pillar drill to make new holes, using the holes in the metal furniture as guides. Finally, the brass was reattached using brass nails of the same size as the originals for missing nails and re-using extant ones where possible.

Once the furniture was on, we used a milling machine to make slots along the spine edge of the heavy boards where we then inserted a strip of aerocotton to make a strong board attachment. The cloth was trimmed in a wedge and adhered to the spine, and then the aerocotton lining was sewn through to provide an even stronger attachment.

The Bible had a pair of stuck-on endbands made from machine-sewn blue-and-white-striped fabric, with a more degraded headband than tailband, both of which needed some support. The inner core of the endbands, a thick paper, was entirely missing at the head, as was most of the fabric, so a sympathetic blue-colored handmade Western paper was attached from the spine side to consolidate and support what remained. The tailband was in better shape and was only missing part of the core, so we provided a new one of parchment, inserted and adhered with EVA, and then a thin Japanese tissue was attached from the spine side to create a smooth transition between the original fabric and the new core.

Because the Bible is such a large and heavy textblock, the way the book opens is very important and has a big effect of the future wear of the volume. It was important for us to control the opening of the book and the movement of the spine to prevent it from pushing against the boards and causing damage after treatment. To that effect, we applied several new spine linings to control how much the spine moved: three of heavy handmade Western paper, and then a fourth of even heavier cotton-rag paper. That same paper was used to make a new hollow of the 2-off, 1-on variety, meaning that a tube of paper was made by folding the paper into thirds, with two of those panels adhered together to form a hollow, and the side made up of one thickness was adhered to the spine.

With the book more or less in one piece at this stage (metal treated and replaced, boards reattached and spine lined and with a new hollow), it was time to reback the Bible with a new piece of spine leather. Mariko had already dyed the new archival-quality calf the previous term for a leather dyeing assignment, and then pared it to the desired thickness with a taper on the edges to provide a smooth transition. We carefully lifted the original leather along the spine edge of the boards, a tricky process because the leather is so terribly brittle, to make room for the new leather.

Using wheat starch paste, we then proceeded to attach the new leather spine, working together to get a good adhesion to the spine and to place it satisfactorily before the paste dried out. (This was one of the many occasions during this project where working as a team was more than useful-it was necessary! Mariko and I said to each other several times that we could have done with at least one more hand between us.) The leather was turned in at the head and tail and shaped into new caps, and placed under the pastedowns at both front and back.

Finally, the original spine piece needed to be replaced. Mariko had sanded down the remains of the original tube hollow, which we couldn't remove because of how degraded the leather was towards the bottom of the material. This meant that in places where losses had occurred, bits of hollow and the underlying mull were visible. We engaged in some careful overpainting of those visible linings with acrylics to give a more homogeneous appearance without sacrificing any stability.

And with that, the work was complete! (Other than placing some new Japanese paper hinges in the pastedowns where the boards were reattached.) This family Bible is in much better state than it was when we got it, though it will still need some relatively careful handling: while the leather was consolidated, it is still extremely brittle, and nowhere more so than on the original spine. The owner will need to very carefully open the book each time he desires to do so, ensuring that as little movement as possible occurs over the spine so as not to further damage the leather.

We hope you've enjoyed hearing about one of our most frequently requested jobs-nearly everyone has an old family Bible kicking around, and we see a lot of them. They're great case studies in understanding book function and binding history, and even better practice for future work!