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Cassell's '' Illustrated Family Bible '' (Circa. 1850)

Posted: 2018-02-07 07:45

A fine family bible bearing the name of a famous ancestor recently came to the work studio for restoration. This mid 19c. illustrated edition, containing over 900 detailed steel engravings is an heirloom of the Attwell Family. The bible has genuine provenance, as the integral register is inscribed with the Birth Entry of the famous children's book illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell. The entry states this ceremony took place in the Mile End District of London on the 4th June, 1879. Another indicator of the genuine provenance of this treasured edition is the ownership label adhered to the pastesheet of the upper board, (see picture below), displaying the names of Mabel's Mother and Father.


When received it was evidently clear the bible was in a poor state of repair. As a result of successive inappropriate environmental storage conditions throughout its existence. Regrettably, it is common practice for family heirlooms to be sequestered away in the attic space of the family dwelling where the ambient temperature can fluctuate drastically, with detrimental consequences. As mentioned in previous posts on this Blog. If ambient temperatures for the storage of archives are not monitored the materials of a binding structure will react adversely (Posts - Antiquarian Books 10/2/2012 & Leather Bindings 12/2/2012 on Page 13 of this Blog) weakening the physical composition of the period materials used in a book's construction; of which many are organically based in composition and hydroscopic (i.e readily react with moisture) in nature.


The picture above shows the degraded and partial disbound state of the bible prior to its restoration. The covering ' Chieftan ' Grain Goatskin leather had separated from the upper board, the paste used to attach the skin to the board had completely lost its bonding qualities due the drying effects of previous water damage. The alternation from damp to dry conditions causes a repetitive expansion and contraction of the binding materials; particularly effected was the covering leather which had split at the corner ' turn-ins, and also become torn and distorted along the line of the ' outer-joints ', and Headcap ' turn-ins '. The ' 3 Fold Hollow ' , and False Bands on the spine, I assume, had become so fragile they had either just fallen off or had been removed deliberately at some stage.



One component of the binding structure that was unfortunately beyond salvage for repair; essentially as a result of neglect, was the millboard upper board. The board had become typically pliable through gradual decomposition with signs of delamination evident. Mould spores had also propagated between each layer of the board's composition. The damp and mould presence had caused the irreversible chemical break down of the adhesive bond, resulting in this delamination. Physically, the board had also contracted slightly in comparison to the dimensions of the lower board, with also clear evidence of warping across its planar surface.


The discarded upper board was wrapped in cling film to prevent the further ambient circulation of the mould spores. The permanent set-off staining by the mould and water damage of the endpapers would necessitate their replacement.
The fragility of the first 128pp was a priority, whereby traditional western paper repair methods were employed to return the folios to a stable condition. As the book had been ' forwarded ' in the ' extra letterpress ' format onto five sunk cords, these existing cords had to be extended by the addition of 3-ply strands of new hemp, onto which the newly repaired signatures were re-sewn. Prior to this the old, Cobb style, coloured, ' common-made ' endpapers had been removed and discarded, and a replacement pair constructed. The new endpapers were then sewn into their positions at the front and rear of the text block.

The weak and degraded original Mull and remnants of the Spine Hollow were removed, and the spine was rendered with a single application of M218 Reversible PVA adhesive. When this adhesive application had dried the Text Block was re-backed in the traditional method, and the spine shoulders reformed to accommodate the depth of the covering boards. The boards are then prepared and subsequently ' laced-on ' to the new extension cords and the joints are then ' set '.


The spine has been re-lined, with new period ' stuck-on ' Headbands adhered into position and a new Archival Manila Board 3-Fold Hollow constructed and laid down. Depicted above one can see the prepared board and ' lacing-in ' holes with the new extension slips, pasted and ready for attaching the board. The slips were subsequently trimmed, teased out, hammered flat and smoothed down; using archival standard anti-fungicide paste, onto both the recto and obverse sides of the board, Once the newly laced-on board had been neatly manipulated into the right angle shoulder joint the ' setting' procedure was then duly completed.


Following the re-backing of the spine with new matching Chieftan grain, Black Goatskin leather the original, gilt decorated spine panel was pasted back into position upon the new repair leather. To ensure a strong adhesive bond of the panel to this flexing part of the binding's structure, it is often necessary on large, heavy tomes, to place the book into the Finishing Press and wrap over the spine a cotton stretch bandage. No direct contact of the bandage must be made with the damp leather in the initial stages, otherwise it will stick to the bandage. To counteract this problem it is essential to position a medium gauge, sheet lining of polythene between the leather and the bandage prior to securing the binding wrap.

In addition to the repair of the bible I was also tasked to mend an accompanying moire silk Marker Ribbon. The ribbon production also included a sewn in, Cross stitch panel which conveyed a Devotional message. The ribbon had split into two separate halves, the material was starting to edge fray and the decorative perforated paper substrate had small tears weakening the decorative scallop border. Traditional lining repairs, utilising Area Bonded Fibre, was applied to mend the minor paper tears, and also bring together the two halves of the ribbon.


Above, preparing the materials for re-tacking the tab feature on the silk Marker Ribbon.

The re-backed text block and newly formed shoulder joints. The 128 initial repaired pages, neatly sewn back into position.

An important heirloom such as this project warrants a custom made, Clam Shell Box to protect it for many years into the future.

A final portfolio image of the completed commission. A pleasure, as always, to receive personal thanks for my endeavours.

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