Repairing Flora Boreali-Americana
by Andre Michaux, Paris, 1803
I recently undertook the conservation of two 19th century volumes that are just too gorgeous not to share. The treatment itself was suggested by Gilbert Butler, a Library member with a keen eye for historically significant botanical literature. As good as our rare book stacks are at protecting our materials, these two treasures were crumbling on the shelf and needed a little help. With the generous support of The Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Family Foundation, I’m pleased that they will finally get their day in the sun.
As you can see from the before photos, both books had seen better days, with detached cover boards, broken sewing, and deteriorating leather. It was difficult to access the beautiful prints within without causing further damage to the bindings.
Perhaps one of the more hair-raising aspects of my job as a conservator involves removing a deteriorating leather spine that doesn’t want to be removed. (In one piece, at least.) Here you can see one of the carefully removed leather spines, and the now exposed book spine. It looks painful, but trust me, the book will be better for it! This allowed me to repair the broken sewing, mend the torn pages, and hold it all together with a layer of handmade Japanese paper on the spine.
Next, the tricky process of paring new leather to a precise thickness, allowing it to disappear under the old leather. Each piece is dyed to match the original, mottled old material. Custom, clamshell boxes provide a furhter layer of protection.
There were a lot of small, finicky, sometimes tedious steps involved in getting these book from the sad, broken creatures in the first photos to their final state. It was all worth it, though, to be able to share with you some of the lovely prints that were hidden within.
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