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Variation on a Theme of the Japanese Paper Spine

The Dibner Library received a newly transferred collection of Deutsche Farber-Zeitung, a 19th century periodical on textile dying that includes color samples on wool, cotton, and silk. A summer intern discovered insect carcasses within the gutters of some while organizing, so they were sent to the Libraries’ Book Conservation lab for freezing.

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A few were in poor shape, missing their boards and leather spine coverings. After freezing, a decision was necessary regarding their return to the Dibner for reshelving. Creating boxes was my first thought, however, the leaves are so brittle that I was afraid of damage to them if handled without further protection (above). 

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An  initial step was creating new boards, attaching them to the textblock using toned aero linen placed over a hollow-back spine. I chose to take it a step further by creating a kind of papier-mâché spine covering for these  books in order to be visibly consistent with the remaining collection. I decided to use a variation on the molded japanese paper spine developed by conservator Andrew Honey.

Since the former spine coverings used false raised bands, I re-created these with sewing cords fitted in a template for each book. The toned aero-linen linen and cords were covered with plastic wrap to protect from moisture and adhesive during the process (above).

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Over the plastic film, several layers of mid-weight japanese paper covered the panels, alternated by those covering the cords using a mixture of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose thinned in deionized water (above).

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Once dried, I toned the covering  with acrylic paints to match as closely as possible to the original leather (above).

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The new spines were attached to the aero linen lining. The final result on the far right – awaiting it’s spine label (above).

—Vanessa Haight Smith (and photos)


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