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Book Repair and Restoration

A Manual of Pratical Suggestions for Bibliophiles by Mitcell S. Buck 1918

Book Rebacking Part 1


Original Sheep Binding 1684 Rebacked

It often happens that books are purchased in old sheep, calf, or even morocco bindings with the hinges so broken that the boards are either entirely off or held only by weakened cords. Such books may be properly entrusted to a good binder for rebinding in substantial leather. It is sometimes preferable, however, merely to reback such books, not only in order to preserve the old leather sides, which are generally in much better condition than the back and often possessed of a very attractive patina, but also to save the wear and slight trimming to which the book would necessarily be subject in rebinding.

It is inadvisable to reback with calf or any very perishable leather. A good quality morocco should be used. In rebacking books bound in old calf or sheep, a smooth grain brown morocco, such as that known to the trade as Spanish morocco, will be found satisfactory and a fair match for the old leather, both in color and surface texture.

The first operation in rebacking is to treat the old leather with a softening substance, such as Vaseline, to prevent the old leather from breaking while it is being worked on. The Vaseline should be rubbed well into the covers, left on for about half an hour, and the excess then wiped off with a soft cloth.

Vaseline is also used in the same way to assist in the preservation of old leather bindings still in good repair. It is not entirely satisfactory, as it soon dries out. The best composition for preserving leather is one suggested by Mr. Douglas Cockerell, made by mixing about two ounces of castor oil with one ounce of paraffin wax. The oil is heated and the wax, shredded, melted into it. As the mixture cools it is stirred with a splinter of wood. If this is thoroughly done, the resulting mixture will be a whitish jelly. A thin coat of this is applied to the leather, especially around the hinges, and well rubbed in with the palm of the hand. Any excess is then wiped off and the book polished with a very soft white rag. This mixture is best used while still hot, a little being soaked into a woolen cloth, by means of which it is rubbed on the binding. If leather bindings could be given this treatment about once a year their life would be greatly increased.

After the leather of the old book to be rebacked has been treated, a cut is made down each side of the back, through the leather close to the broken hinge. (Fig. A.) Care should be taken not to cut through the cords which are set into the boards at this point. If the bade is furnished with a leather label in a fair state of preservation, this label should be cut around and lifted off to be used again on the new back.

Fig A. Removing Book Back

All the leather on the back and over the hinges, up to the cut above mentioned, should then be lifted or scraped off. As a majority of old books are bound with the leather glued directly to the lining of the back, a certain amount of the old glue, according to its condition, scraped smooth, should be left on the lining.

While old calf backs are generally so dry that they must be scraped off in pieces, it is sometimes possible, when the back is of more solid leather, to remove the old back, with the label and gilding, in one piece. If this can be done, the inside of the old back should be scraped and this back pasted on again over the new leather back. This is, of course, preferable, as by this means more of the characteristics of the old cover are preserved.


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Rebacking Part 2 >

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