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[BKARTS] Flat pages for binding classes

In a letter to the List on April 28, I wrote:
"I have on my workbench right now a rare, 1871, volume printed on a fairly
heavy stock. I was astonished to find that most of the signatures were loose
although the book did not look as if it had been heavily used. Then, after
having difficulty turning the pages, I discovered the text paper had been
used cross-grain. The resulting strain at the spine had broken sewing thread
throughout the book."

Gavin Stairs then wrote asking for more information about the book to try to understand just what had caused the failure of the binding. I answered Gavin off-list and am printing my letter to him now so you will understand his response to the List today:

".....I do want to try to explain the problem I'm having with this particular book. Yes, the paper (at least 90#) is much heavier than that normally used for books.
I'm sure other factors than wrong grain direction contributed to the failure of this binding. It's difficult to be concise and tell enough at the same time. You may not be familiar with the binding method used in this book. It was hand sewn on recessed cords, in which the spine folds are sawn at intervals, the text block placed in a sewing frame strung with cords over which the linen sewing thread passes.

When the sewing has been completed and the book removed from the sewing
frame, the cords are laced through holes in the boards. This method is not
as sturdy a binding as the earlier sewing on raised cords, but was developed
in order to make a smooth back for lettering or gilding. (Sewing on tapes,
in which needle holes are pierced through the signature folds, was a later
development in binding.)

This book shows evidence of having been kept in a very dry climate. Besides
the broken threads, most of the signatures have pulled away from the spine.
The paper is quite dry and brittle. I'll probably put it in a humidifier which should help.

Another puzzling thing about this book is that the cords do not seem to have
been laced into the covers. The mull, glued to the spine and extending onto
the boards, is the only thing holding the book together, and that has rotted
and torn.

I can't do anything about the grain direction of the pages, but I'll do my
best to rebind this volume so that it can be used again."

Hi Betty,

Thanks for the description of the problem.  It sounds to me that the paper 
could not have been strong enough to break the threading.  Might have been 
that the thread dried out.

But it also seems clear that the binding wasn't very competent.  Perhaps 
the original binder did something to compromise the thread.  Either that, 
or the thick paper was just too much for the thread when it was newer.

You say the paper is from 1870 or so, and about 90# basis weight.  I 
presume this must be on office stationery scale, and not offset, as the 
offset basis would not be excessive.  So you are reporting a page weight 
similar to a medium cover or card stock, probably more like a light 
watercolour paper.  This would perhaps be suitable for a folio book, but 
you don't state the size.  From 1870, I would guess that the paper is from 
an early paper machine if it shows grain, probably not heavily sized, made 
of rag, and not heavily calendared.  This would not be overly stiff in a 
large page, but would originally have been quite tough.  However, if it 
shows signs of deterioration, it may have some wood content.

If the sheets are still feeling dry, even when they have been some time in 
a room of normal humidity, my guess is that the moisture content is now 
normal, but that the paper has deteriorated from some cause, like acidity 
or lignin degradation, etc.  I doubt that humidification will help.  If 
there are some flakes of paper separated from the block, I would suggest 
testing them for the usual suspects.

I think that what you are describing is perhaps the result of an 
incompetent printer and binder of the 1870s, who made a book with little 
mechanical integrity and poor quality materials, and which has consequently 
fallen apart from strain, there being several causes.

In any case, thank you for your description, and best of luck with the 


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