As a Heritage Council intern at Trinity College Library, I have the opportunity to work on several conservation projects supervised by conservators. Last month, I worked with Andrew Megaw on a book entitled Letters written by the late J. Swift, D.D. Dean of St. Patrick’s, Dublin, and several of his friends. From the year 1703 to 1740. Published from the originals; with Notes explanatory and historical, by John Hawkesworth, L.L.D. In three volumes. A new edition. Volume I. London, 1766, shelfmark OLS L-11-584.
In 2008, the bequest of Archibald C. Elias’s collection of Swift material arrived in Trinity College Library. It includes this book which had belonged to the renowned printer John Nichols and is annotated throughout with commentaries and notes used in his edition of the Works in 1801.1 Nichols is considered a reliable biographer. He spent his life in the study of authors such as Jonathan Swift.2 He often bought original documents that would give him information about his contemporaries. In fact, it is highly likely that Nichols possessed original letters from Swift in order to correct and revise this 1766 edition.
Condition and aims of the treatments
This book, currently on display in the Jonathan Swift exhibition in the Long Room, was in a very poor condition. The original leather binding exhibits characteristics of being an inexpensively produced plain binding (2-on sewing, no lining, only 3 cords laced-in, only 3 tie-downs for the endbands) and not solid enough to protect the textblock after 250 years. Indeed, the textblock was split in two (fig. 2) and the supports and sewing thread were broken at several spots. The boards were detached and the leather spine was fragmented and brittle (fig. 3).
Our aim is to preserve as much of the original object as possible, including the original decorated spine, and to allow the book to be handled and used after treatment. There are two main aspects of treatment. On the one hand, we want to stabilise the text block structure and, on the other, repair the spine area in such a way that further damage to the spine area would be minimised.
To rebind a book while keeping as much of the original material as possible, the lifting stages are important and delicate. The brittle spine, the leather from the boards, and the thin pastedowns were lifted mechanically. The quires were disassembled, cleaned and repaired before rebinding. We followed the original pattern of the sewing by using the original holes.
The spine of the textblock was consolidated with two layers of Japanese paper (NAO PAPER 19 g/m2) applied between the cords. Then, because the original sewing and the board attachment were weak, we added two aerolinen linings on the extremities of the spine (fig. 5). The boards were re-attached by lacing the cords through the existing holes in the boards. We consolidated this attachment by pasting down the aerolinen linings on the outer and inner boards. In addition, the aerolinen linings will support the backfolds pierced by the tie-downs and consolidate the attachment of the new endbands.
We created a moulded spine in order to reduce tension on the damaged original leather spine, and we attached it with strips of Japanese paper as shown in fig. 6.
We toned and pared a vegetable tanned leather re-tanned with aluminium3 and applied it on the moulded spine and under the lifted leather of the boards. After that, we applied the original leather on top of it and let it dry in shape under a bandage (fig. 8).
Finally, the removed elements such as the original bands or pieces of the sewing thread were conserved in Mylar® enclosures (fig. 10) in the made-to-measure phase box.
Erica D’Alessando, from Brussels, Belgium, began a Heritage Council 9-month internship at Trinity College Library in October 2016. She has a Bachelor in Art History from the University of Brussels and a Bachelor and a Master in Art Conservation (book specialisation) from the National School of Visual Art of La Cambre, Brussels.
- http://library.catalogue.tcd.ie/search/c?SEARCH=OLS+L-11-584&sortdropdown=-&searchscope=9, consulted on 17th November 2016.
- Pooley, Julian, ‘”A laborious and truly useful gentleman”: Mapping the Networks of John Nichols, Printer, Antiquary and Biographer’, in British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 2015, p. 497.
- From supplier J. Hewit & Sons Ltd., Scotland. This archival leather ages better than vegetable tanned leather and has been used for several years at Trinity College Library.