From the Conservator: Preparing for “Reaching Out”

When preparing a book for exhibition, a conservator’s objective is to ensure that the books exhibited not only represent the collection in the best light, but are in the best condition possible to endure the handling required for display as well as the long term storage that follows the exhibition.

Reaching Out: American Bible Society and the African American Community features the second printing, in 1817, of the first Bible published by American Bible Society (ABS). This Bible was printed with the same stereotype plates made for the first edition in 1816. The Rare Bible Collection includes a copy of the first edition, but the book was rebound in the mid 20th century. The 1817 copy still has its original binding, so it is important to preserve it for the collection as one example of how the book was originally bound.

This copy is missing a thick section of pages, everything from Chronicles 8 to the end of Psalms. The large gap caused the leather to pucker and crease from head to tail along the spine as well as causing more pages to fall out.

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The treatment plan was to fill in the gap left by the missing pages with new paper, but do it in such a way that the repair could be easily removed if necessary. New, blank pages could be sewn in; and to ensure they were removable the spine could be reinforced with a linen lining adhered with a reversible adhesive.

A handmade paper was chosen for the blank pages similar in color and thickness to the paper of the 1817 Bible. The paper was folded into signatures, approximately as thick and flexible as the original. The thickness of the new signatures was tested to make sure they would fit snugly into the binding without pulling apart the fragile spine when the book was closed.

After the paper was prepared, the leather was lifted off of the spine so the new pages as well as the other detached sections could be sewn together. The photo shows that the back sections of the book were still attached to the binding.

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The new sections were sewn in with linen thread and the spine was lined with thin paper and strong linen. The leather cover was wrapped around the textblock and adhered to the spine over a “hollow” — a folded piece of linen that allows the spine to move freely, without further creasing the damaged leather. The new pages were then trimmed to the exact size of the original and the edges were colored with colored pencil to blend in with the rest of the book. Colored pencil was used because paint, such as watercolor, would cause the edges of the paper to become wavy as they absorbed water.

Now the book was strong enough to withstand being held open for 3 months during the exhibition and would also be able to sit on the shelf indefinitely without losing any more pages.

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