by Josefin Jimenez, Bolton Conservator
I recently had the good fortune to take part of an online bookbinding class to make a model of a Christopher Clarkson limp parchment conservation binding. The class was arranged through the Institue of Conservators-Restorers in Ireland (ICRI) and taught by Anne-Marie Miller, ACR, MA of Codex Conservation.
The materials came through the mail to each participant, containing paper, thread, a strip of parchment and alum thawed cords.
Christopher Clarkson (1938-2017) was instrumental in developing modern conservation methods and ethics in the UK, designed the model after working with recovering manuscripts and printed books damaged in the 1966 Florence floods. He noted that parchment bindings with soft covers and laced through attachments fared better than hardbound books, relying on boards and adhesion. He experimented with creating a non-adhesive binding with soft covers and a spine lining, which would function as a strong flexible support for the movement of the spine.
A “conservation binding” is an umbrella term for binding structures designed by conservators with longevity, re-treatability and mechanical function in mind. They are often made by “cherry picking” features from historical bindings to ensure best function. Even if rebinding or making an new binding is considered a radical step it is sometimes the best way to ensure that a book is protected from damage. By making a model of a binding, or structure, a conservator can learn how to best put the binding together, or which features could be suitable to incorporate in future projects. The physical object also makes it easy to observe how the structure moves and changes over time and with handling.
Taking part in an online tutorial was somewhat different from learning in person and sometimes required inventive takes and improvisation to gather the necessary equipment and tools, but once in session it was surprisingly familiar.
As this is only a model, and in the interest of avoiding exorbitant material costs the parchment for the cover was substituted with a sheet of thick handmade paper, which has a similar drape and function. The binding features split alum thawed sewing supports, which laced through the boards forms the primary connection between cover and book block. Hidden under the cover is the parchment spine lining which provides a support the the laced through endband, or “structural endband” gives additional support and attachment. The lining attaches through the stitched tie downs. The binding is finished with alum thawed ties to hold the book closed.
Personally, stitching the endbands by hand were the biggest challenge, as tension is very important and there is a tactile element to it difficult to convey through online teaching, but after a few tries it went very smoothly. When making the endband it is important to keep the tension on the thread even, not pulling it too tightly while still keeping the beads firm enough to lock the structure.
Stitching the endband
The above link is a beautiful time lapse from Julia Poirier’s Instagram, conservator at Chester Beatty Library showing her stitching the endband for her model. This endband has a bead at the back and front and is stitched through the sections and spine liner. The endband forms the primary attachment of the spine lining and book block.
Even as a model, it’s a very beautiful binding and it was fantastic to get back into working practically and participating in a joint endeavour across long distances.
For anyone interested, this blog has a detailed tutorial with instructional videos in how to make a similar, but much simpler binding, from home made materials which we made for National Heritage Week 2020.
- Adams, Morgan. ‘Modeling History: Making a Stiff-Board Parchment Binding with a Slotted Spine.’ Books, Health, and History: The New York Academy of Medicine. April 4, 2013. Accessed May 20, 2020.
- Clarkson, Christopher. 1975. ‘Limp Vellum Binding and Its Potential as a Conservation Type Structure for the Rebinding of Early Printed Books: A Break with 19th and 20th Century Rebinding Attitudes and
Practices.’ In Preprints of the ICOM Committee for Conservation 4th Triennial Meeting: Venice 13-16, October 1975: 75/15/3/1-15.
- Hill, Roger, Peter Waters, and Christopher Clarkson. 2006. ‘The restoration of books, Florence, 1968: a film based on the work in the National Library of Florence resulting from the floods on 4 November 1966.’ (University of Utah Library).
- Reid-Cunningham, James. ‘Pierced Vellum Bindings by James Reid-Cunningham.’ Guild of Bookworkers, [?20 Jan 2013]. Accessed May 26, 2020.