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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

In the Thick of It: Part 2 in a series on the treatment of Summerfield D544

August 15th, 2016

Back in February, I wrote about undertaking the treatment of the 1683 volume Kazania na niedziele calego roku [Sermons for Sundays of the Whole Year] by Pawel Kaczyński (call number: Summerfield D544). At the time of that writing, I’d gotten as far as disbinding, cleaning, and mending the folios before it was necessary to put the treatment aside for a while to focus on other things. This summer I’ve brought the book out again to tackle the next phase of its treatment, preparation for rebinding.

I had already mended most of the folios along the inner spine folds, but they still needed reinforcement, or guarding, along the outer spine folds in order to be strong enough for sewing. Because there are exactly 100 single-folio sections in this volume, I chose a tissue for the guards that was as thin as possible to minimize added bulk while also providing the needed strength to the folds.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Guarding of folios in progress. Note the smooth spine folds on the guarded folios, left, and the more ragged edges of the unguarded folios on the right. Click image to enlarge.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

The text block with guarding completed.

The amount of damage to this volume was so significant that for the sake of efficiency it was necessary to keep the mending fairly minimal, adding stabilizing mends with very thin tissue where it was most needed, rather than filling in every loss with color-matched tissue. However, there was a very large loss to the lower portion of the title page, so I chose to fill in that area; the page was physically stable, but a fill greatly improves it aesthetically. I selected a Japanese paper of about the same weight as the text paper and toned it with diluted watercolors to achieve a color that is sympathetic to the color of the text paper.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Title page of Summerfield D544 with toned Japanese paper compensation along lower edge.

With the mending and guarding completed, the next step is sewing. The text block was originally sewn two-on, which means that two gatherings are sewn on at once with a single pass of thread, rather than sewing the gatherings one at a time. This method of sewing reduces the swell of the spine that occurs when thread is introduced; with 100 gatherings in this text block, it makes sense that the original binder chose to sew it this way, and I decided to re-sew it in the same manner. To further reduce bulking (in addition to sewing two-on), I chose a thinner thread than I’d normally use. The last step before sewing was to select endpapers for the volume; I opted for Nideggen, a paper whose tan color and subtle texture go very well with that particular warm, grimy tone of old paper. Once the endpapers were cut, I lined up the text block on the sewing frame to mark the positions of the cords, strung the cords onto the frame, and at long last, started sewing.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Stringing up the cords on the sewing frame.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Beginning to sew – three sections down and only 97 to go!

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

About one-quarter of the way through sewing.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Detail of double cords and kettle stitch at tail end of text block.

Sewing multiple gatherings at a time can be a little awkward at the outset, but now that I’ve found a rhythm to it, the sewing is progressing at a nice pace. Soon all that will be left to do will be to put the book into a new paper case. I look forward to presenting the finished volume in one last installment of this series later this fall!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Folded and Sewn: A Bookbinding Workshop

June 12th, 2014

Staff and students from Conservation Services recently led a workshop for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Mini College program, in which individuals attend a week of lectures, classes, and events on the KU campus. This year we led a group of 21 eager students in our workshop, “Folded and Sewn.”

Four structures featured in bookbinding workshop

Clockwise from upper left: sewn pamphlet, stapled pamphlet, accordion book,
Venetian blind book. Click images to enlarge.

The students in this workshop made four simple structures that were created with folding and sewing–no adhesives required. We started with an accordion book, then made a Venetian blind structure that featured a picture of James Naismith on one side and the windows of Watson Library on the other. Next we moved to folded pamphlets: first a stapled one with text about caring for books, and finished with a sewn version featuring images of historic Jayhawks (courtesy of the University Archives).

Kyle Sederstom, Roberta Woodrick, and Whitney Baker, staff of Conservation Services, took turns leading the class. Step-by-step images were also projected on an overhead screen. In addition, we enlisted three conservation student assistants and our summer conservation intern to roam the room and help participants as needed.

Conservation Services staff and students at bookbinding workshop

Conservation Services staff and students who led the Mini College workshop.

The Mini College participants finished the structures in record time! We had provided two copies of each structure, so there was time for students to review and make a second book. Other students perused examples of pamphlets and accordion structures provided on a front table.

Bookbinding workshop

The workshop featured a leader for each bookbinding structure, as well as projected images of each step.

We had a wonderful time hosting this workshop and hope to offer it again in the future.


Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Books Will Speak Plain: Creating a Design Binding

November 15th, 2013

The Guild of Book Workers (GBW) is a national organization whose members are bookbinders, book artists, book conservators, calligraphers, and other book enthusiasts. The Midwest Chapter of GBW recently hosted a jurying of design bindings for a traveling exhibition, which opened at Spencer Library on Monday, November 11. Entrants were required to bind a copy of Julia Miller’s Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings (Legacy Press, 2010).

What follows is a description of how I bound my copy of Books Will Speak Plain. I gained inspiration for my binding by examining historic bookbindings from Special Collections at Spencer Library. Because Miller’s book covers the history of bookbinding, it seemed logical to create a book that touched on book history in some fashion. In my role as conservator, I am fortunate to have the chance to closely examine books and have long been interested in evidence of past repair. I found various examples in Spencer’s stacks of books that had been repaired by sewing on loose parts, such as a detaching spine or cover board. I decided to use this concept as the driving force in the design of my book.

Detail of sewing repair on Sunderland, La Roy. Pathetism; with practical instructions. New York, 1843. Call number B6443. Special Collections, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Detail of sewing repair on Sunderland, La Roy. Pathetism; with practical instructions. New York, 1843. Call number B6443. Click image to enlarge.

The 500-page book arrived in folded sheets of paper. The textblock paper was dense, which ruled out certain styles of bookbinding that could not support the weight of such heavy paper. The book was sewn on three sewing supports made out of the fiber ramie. The book was sewn on a sewing frame, using a link stitch.

Image of folded gatherings of paper, copy of Julia Miller's Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).    Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).

Left: Book in sheets. Right: Sewing book on a sewing frame. Click images to enlarge.

I sewed silk endbands in cream and orange. The silk bands were sewn around a core of linen thread. Next the book’s spine was lined to provide some rigidity and set the round spine shape. I first applied a layer of Japanese paper with wheat starch paste, then a layer of Western paper, and finally airplane linen.

Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).   Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).

Left: Sewing endbands with orange and cream thread. Right: Spine linings of paper and airplane linen. Click images to enlarge.

Next the ramie bands, around which book was sewn, were frayed out and adhered to the book boards.

Sewing supports attached to board of book

Boards attached to textblock via frayed-out ramieband sewing supports. Click image to enlarge.

Once the boards were on, it was time to cover the book. I decided to use two contrasting colors of morocco (goatskin) leather, sewed together with coarse thread.

First I cut out templates for the leather pieces. The edges of the leather were pared to a thin edge, especially where the two pieces overlapped in the middle of the book.

Cut out pieces of leather   Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).

Left: Cut leather pieces with templates. Right: Joined leather pieces wrapped around textblock. Click images to enlarge.

The leather was attached with wheat starch paste.  Here you see the headcap tied up with thread in a finishing press to help give the leather a good shape where the boards and spine meet.

Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).

Book covered with leather, with headcap tied up with thread. Click image to enlarge.

Once the leather was applied to the book, next came labeling. I used individual brass letter tools, heated on a hotplate. (A stove designed for the purpose is preferable, but I didn’t have one at my disposal.) Each letter is “branded” individually in the leather. When it is left like that, with no gold leaf or foil applied over it, it is called “blind” tooling.

W. Baker Plainly Spoken Exhibit entry: heated tools on stove   Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).

Left: Tools resting on hot plate. Right: Detail of finished book with blind tooling. Click images to enlarge.

This book was accepted into the blind juried show. You can see it and other fine bindings in the Plainly Spoken exhibit at Spencer Library through January 6, 2014. If you are near Lawrence, please come to the Gallery Talk on November 21, from 3-4 PM. The Spencer exhibit features both the design bindings as well as historical examples from Special Collection that complement them.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Historic Fingerpainting Seems More Dignified

August 24th, 2012

The volume below contains a wonderful example of paste paper on its binding.  Paste paper is most associated with 16th- and 17th-century books from the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. It was usually created in the bookbinding workshop for books that did not warrant the expense of marbled paper, a luxurious commodity.

Paste paper binding (call # D2304, Vol.107)      Paste paper detail (from call # D3204 Vol. 107)

Left: This 1815 volume from a run of the Spencer Library’s holdings for the periodical Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung has a binding that uses paste paper (Call Number: D3204, Vol. 107).  Right: a detail from the bottom right corner of the volume. Click images to enlarge.

Paste paper was created with starch paste—a staple of any bookbinding operation—and some sort of pigment. Often an implement was dragged through the paper, creating lines that look remarkably three-dimensional.  Once in a while you find a mark of the bookbinder left behind: a finger or thumbprint used to make flowers or other patterns.  There are many instructions for making paste paper, easily discoverable on the internet.

Paste paper detail (Call # MS D38) 
Image of Paste paper detail from Spencer Library's copy of Poem to the Memory of Lady Miller  Paste paper detail (from call # D3254)

Paste paper details from the bindings of volumes in the Spencer Library’s collections. Top left: Tractatus optimus de arte bene moriendi (expanded version by Dominicus Capranica, d. 1458), Germany, 1456. (Call # MS D38). Top right: Saint Bonaventure’s Soliloquium , Germany, 1433. (Call# MS D37). Bottom left: Anna Seward’s Poem to the Memory of Lady Miller by Anna Seward,  1782 (Call Number: D2763). Bottom right: A modern example: Brian North Lee’s Bookplates and Labels by Leo Wyatt, 1988 (Call # D3245). Click images to enlarge.

For more information on paste paper, see Rosamond Loring’s book, Decorated Book Papers; being an account of their designs and fashions (Call Number: C6396).

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services