In the first bookbinding course I did, there was a lesson on repairing bound books. So our homework was to find a book in bad shape so we’d repair it during the lesson. I don’t have many bound books, and the ones I do have aren’t that bad off. But when I looked through my parents’ (or rather, my father’s) bookcase, I found a book that really needed some lovin’. It was a large book of fairy tales, in an old-fashion binding.
The space between the spine and the cover (‘kneep’ in Dutch — I don’t know this jargon word in English) was too wide. It looks very chic, but it’s precisely where all the force is applied when you open the book. It was completely torn, and the book was held together with cellotape — which doesn’t really work well to preserve paper.
So I asked him if I could bring his book of fairy tales, and he gave it to me to repair. He had one condition: it had to be still readable afterwards.
During the lesson, I re-stitched some of the signatures of the book block. Luckily, there wasn’t too much wrong with it and I didn’t have to re-bind the whole book block. Most of the work would be the cover. I re-made the cover with a more sensible spacing, so that it wouldn’t tear anymore. But that meant that the cover got a lot less wide, and then it was too narrow for the book itself! I would need to make a completely new cover.
But to do that, I would need to get the cover paper off the original cover. There is a way to do that: let the cover soak in water for weeks to get the paper off. It’s not without risk: first you have to make a high-resolution scan of the cover, because if it gets ruined, you can always print out the scan and use that!
Pretty intimidating stuff. And we had loaned our scanner to klik‘s dad, so we had no easy access to a scanner as well. The project was shelved and remained shelved for more than a year!
About a month ago, I got over my fears, scanned the cover in at work, filled a baking tray with water, put it in the closet and put in the cover. The boards were made out of straw cardstock, which is pretty tough and took a long time to dissolve. When it did, we dried the cover paper and it looked like this:
I made the new cover according to the measurements of the book block, with beige linen on the spine and cream-coloured ‘elephant skin paper’ on the cover. Then I cut the sides from the cover paper and glued that over the new cover paper. You can see the space where the cover paper is narrower than the cover — this is how much excess space there was between spine and cover boards!
During the repairing and soaking process, the original spine had completely faded and was unreadable. So we got out our scan and applied the design in gold and red foil:
One of the things my dad does is sign his signature on the first flyleaf, instead of an Ex Libris card. And if he acquired the book during a special occasion, he will write that down there too. However, the flyleaf is what holds the book block on the spine — and so it had to go while I was deconstructing the original book. Clearly, the signature had to be preserved: I’m sure he still wants to know that he got the book from his friend Ada on the occasion of his 37th birthday.
A flyleaf is double the width of the book block: one side is glued to the book block and the other side to the cover boards. Tearing off the flyleaves meant that I was left with one half of a flyleaf from both the front and back, because there’s no way you can get the other half of the flyleaf cleanly off the cover: they’re meant to stick to those boards!
So what I did is take the two halves that were left, and reconstruct a new flyleaf from those two halves. This meant at least the front flyleaf (which is what you see when you open the book) is ‘authentic’ — including the signature! For the back flyleaf, I simply cut a new one from paper that was of roughly the right colour.
You can see that the left side is slightly damaged — the price I had to pay for keeping the original flyleaf.
To add to the book, I created a case for it. The same colour linen as I used for the spine, with a nice decorative pattern in a greenish beige on the inner cover paper:
And this is the book in the case. The whole book fits inside the case, but the two ‘holes’ allow you a firm grip of the book when taking it out. The text on the front (“Fairy tales from all countries”) is a slightly enlarged version of the text on the cover, in red foil.
This project was two years in the making. I’m glad we went through with it, and I’m sure my father will like the result. This book is good to go for another 45 years!