Conservation of a Navigational Book

By Cécilia Duminuco

A few weeks ago I received The Navigation Spiritualized or A New Compass for Seamen, written by John Flavel in the 19th century: a tiny but amazing book to conserve! The book is a brown full leather binding sewn on three cords which are laced into the boards. It has red leather labels tooled in gold on the spine. The front and the back cover, the board edges and the inner turn-ins are equally decorated with blind and gold tooling.

The front and the back boards were nearly detached and their attachment was fragile. All board corners were damaged and the leather was worn, fragile and discoloured.

Part of the spine leather was also missing at the tail, and the upper and the lower parts of the hollow spine liner were also split in two at the tail and partly at the head.

The book needed cleaning, board reinforcement and some consolidation of the leather to be handled safely.

I started the treatment by cleaning the text block carefully with a smoke sponge and with a Japanese brush.

The leather cover surface was then consolidated with a solution of Klucel G, hydroxypropyl cellulose in isopropanol, applied with a cotton ball in an even and thin coating. The corners were consolidated afterwards with wheat starch paste (20% w/v), inserted with a spatula in between the different layers of paper constituting the board.

The paper hollow was partly damaged at the tail: the upper and the lower parts were split in two, and a piece of the paper was missing, so the hollow needed to be reinforced. A thin layer of Japanese machine-made paper was used to recreate the hollow: one part of the Japanese paper was pasted to the spine, and the second part of the folded Japanese paper was pasted underneath the upper layer of the hollow. After drying, the tube hollow is recreated.

A hinge was also created with a thin strip of Japanese paper (coloured with acrylics to match the colour of the marbled endpapers), in order to consolidate the inner hinges of the boards, which were fragile. This Japanese paper was pasted with wheat starch paste (10% w/v) to the flyleaf and the other half to the board.

The outside joints were consolidated with a thin machine-made Japanese paper coloured with acrylic paints. This paper was then coated with an acrylic adhesive (Lascaux 498HV). This adhesive was chosen for its qualities: according to the suppliers, it consists of a "thermoplastic acrylic polymer on the basis of methyl methacrylate and butyl acrylate which is thickened with acrylic butylester". It is not tacky at room temperature, and in order to be used, it can be reactivated with low-toxicity and non-aqueous solvents (like ethanol or isopropanol). Tests were completed and showed that the adhesive is potentially reversible over time.

After drying, this coated paper is cut to the height of the boards. In order to get the right shape, tracing paper is used to draw the outlines of the joints. The Japanese paper was then cut with a scalpel.

The solvent-set tissue is reactivated with isopropanol in order to be used: the acrylic adhesive is softened by the solvent and the Japanese paper is then carefully placed all along the joints for the repair.

The consolidation of the corners and losses of the leather cover was also achieved with coloured solvent-set tissue. Using the same technique as for the spine, the solvent-set tissue was cut, reactivated and adhered onto the damaged areas.

SC7400 (acrylic polymer and wax emulsion) was applied to the solvent-set tissue: the finish protects the solvent-set tissue by giving it impermeability. This surface coat was applied before colouring the tissue with acrylics to match the spine leather and again after the toning. This process allows the isolation of the retouching colour from the original leather.