Peasant Poet John Clare’s Bible

This is a volume that I have recently completed as part of my work with the National Conservation Service. The John Clare Bible was initially acquired by the poet in 1813; he has signed the inside front cover and dated it. The bible itself is much older than this, dating back to 1639 when it was published by Robert Baker. It has since been presented to The Peterborough Museum by Mr J. Lee, Mr J. W. T. Meehan and Mr. J. C. Sturton and is currently in the care of the Peterborough City Archive, a member of NCS.

IMG_0049

Much of the damage this book had suffered was believed to have been caused by its owner. The bible was subjected to extensive wear and tear from constant use and a partly itinerant lifestyle. He is understood to have made several attempts to repair the book and reattach the loose boards. Taking this into account, the aim of the project was to take a minimal approach to maintain what are thought to be his own repairs,  while making it possible to be handled from time to time.

 

 

Before
Before
After
After

Description and condition of the book prior to treatment
Before treatment, the front board had become detached from the volume, except for a small amount of sewing threads keeping it loosely attached. The back board was mostly detached, with two of the four cords broken. Both boards had loose leather that was curling where no longer attached to the board. The first four sections of the volume had suffered substantial damage due to the lack of protection from the front board. Many of the folios were split at the spine, making re-sewing largely impossible without substantial changes. These sections had become detached from the volume. The final section was also damaged, though not to such a great extent.

The cords on the spine were considerably shortened at the front of the book, making re-sewing the loose sections and reattaching the front board impossible in its current state. Both endbands were broken into two, though the sewing on both appeared to be stable and not frayed.

Before
Before
After
After

Conservation treatments
Repairs to the damaged and loose pages were undertaken using sympathetically toned paper as minimally as possible. Heavily creased folios were humidified, misaligned folios were reshaped and reinforced and heavily damaged folio spines reconstructed. The original cords were extended using a similar weight cord to both front and back board and attaching them by sewing onto the existing cord remains to ensure a strong bond. This allowed the loose sections to be re-sewn onto the volume.

To ensure strong reattachment, the boards were split at the spine edge and the cords inserted into the boards and pressed together with adhesive. To repair the endbands a small dowel was inserted to join the two broken parts at each end. These were then re-adhered to the spine using a ‘spider’ tissue. Finally the loose parts of the leather on the spine and boards were re-adhered to the book.

Before
Before
Humidification of sections
Humidification of sections
After
After

The outcome was a stronger and less vulnerable volume with its old repair threads still in place and still showing the book as clearly a worn and used thereby retaining its original character.

Joint tacketing

Part of our series of lectures on board attachment included learning and practising joint tacketing. This particular method of reattaching the boards, is not necessarily a popular one as it is quite interventive and requires piercing the spine of the book. Conservators in Oxford have honed their technique and have it down to a fine art, but this is perhaps because they use the method quite regularly.

Another reason for not using this method of attachment that regularly is because it requires a high shoulder to the book, which are often not present. Indeed most of us has to make sample books to work on as our work books from The Courtauld and Lambeth Palace did not have such high shoulders.

One tacket and one piercing point

The technique is to pierce the spine from the inside of the shoulder, either using an awl or a needle screwdriver (which break quite easily), once the hole is made, a hoop of linen thread is inserted into the hole, and looped over itself to be secured in place. Next hole must be put in corresponding areas of the boards to be reattached. At each sewing station, one hole is made on the edge of the board, coming out into two hold on the underside of the board. This way, the two pieces of thread, are passed through the two holes and tied in a knot on the inside of the board, or spread out as in the picture below.

Two threads spread out

It is a very secure method of board attachment, though interventive as mentioned earlier. A way to avoid lifting the hole spine of the book being worked on, it is possible to cut a small ‘L’ along the edge and lift a small piece of the spine to attach the threads.

Essays, Letters and Poems 1781, vol 2

Having toned some japanese tissue for my repairs to the cover of this book, the next steps were able to happen in conjunction in one another, and I have been working on them steadily. Unfortunately it was at these following points where some hiccups occurred. My colleagues tell me that you learn more if you make mistakes to begin with, though I can’t help feeling a little disappointed in myself.

Having discussed various options with my tutors, we decided that I would remove the spine of the book as it is severely deteriorated and crumbling away. It would also give me practice in spine removal. If this book was of great importance, it is unlikely the spine would be removed and would be worked around. In order to save the spine, I used a Klucel G gel to adhere a strip of japanese tissue, this way, when lifting the spine, it will remain in tact and can be pasted back on again once I have completed the reback.

20111122-212508.jpg

20111122-212452.jpg

Unfortunately, this was the first thing that went wrong, as the spine was so deteriorated, it was not lifting and instead was crumbling rather than coming off in one piece. This meant that having got what meagre bits off that I could, the remainder of the spine would have to be lifted with a poultice and would be unsalvageable.

20111122-212517.jpg

So I started a full spine removal with the hope of using methyl cellulose, but realised once I started to make it that it would have to be left for 24 hours, and unfortunately on the following day, it was much too runny and adding more methyl cellulose meant waiting another 24 hours. It was at this point I moved on to a wheat starch paste poultice, which I found worked well.

20111122-190805.jpg

Then came the second fiasco, having removed the spine, it became apparent that the first two cords had come loose and the sewing, completely eroded, making all the sections loose at this point and the text bock began to split. Rather than resew the book, my tutor decided that it would be better to paste down the cords and hold it together whilst they dried, therefore keeping it together, almost like the modern perfect binding (a ridiculous name given the technique).

20111122-212655.jpg

At the same time that all these problems were occurring, I was also able to consolidate the corners of the book boards and cover them with my specially prepared tissue, which, once dried, all looks okay. I will have to tweak the colour a bit and darken it and am practicing on some dummy boards at the moment, so hopefully they will not be so visible in the end.

20111122-212558.jpg

20111122-212609.jpg

20111122-212639.jpg

 

Essays, Letters and Poems 1781

20111118-100340.jpg

This is the book I am working on at the moment, it has been a few weeks now since I started working on this book, and I hope to finish it before Christmas if all goes well. There have been some hiccups along the way, but as of today, it seemed to be alright when I left it.

It has been a book for me to practice board reattachment, which is a series of lectures we have been having for the past couple of weeks. Here I am going to list the work I have been doing on the book for my journal and hopefully include some pictures of how it has advanced.

20111122-004822.jpg

The book has both boards detached and a severely deteriorated spine, as you can see in the photograph, the end papers are detached with some minor paper repairs necessary. The end bands and end caps have also deteriorated and are no longer present, through there is some evidence of their initial present. A full account of the damage is in my documentation report.

The first step I was advised to take was to prepare some toned tissue for the repairs to the cover and also make any paper repairs. These included reattaching the end papers with the use of a japanese hinge on each side. This worked very well and has formed a discreet and strong attachment.

20111122-005846.jpg

Toned japanese tissue for cover repairs.

20111122-010135.jpg

Reattachment of the endpapers using japanese tissue hinges.