Image of CBL In 12 after conservation

Part 2: Conservation quandaries- Creating a new binding for an 18th century interleaved Indian manuscript

14 January, 2021

The treatment of Dastur-e Himmat (CBL In 12) was prioritised for conservation in early 2020 as it was at risk of further damage due to a failing sewing structure and separation of the textblock from its binding (shrinkage of the spine leather meant they no longer fit together). While Sophie’s previous blog post focused on disbinding and textblock repairs, this post will discuss the process of resewing and making a conservation binding for this wonderfully illustrated codex.

Conservation of this Indian manuscript has been a long-term project for my internship; in part because of the scale of work required, but also due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic which has necessitated multiple lockdowns and periods of working from home.Although practical work is limited without access to original manuscript material, temporarily working from home has meant additional time for reading conservation literature, attending lectures and workshops, treatment planning, practising binding and endband models. As the treatment of CBL In 12 was the first full rebinding I had carried out this additional time was useful as it gave me a chance to build on my knowledge base around book conservation.

Models

During the first lockdown I made two binding models based on CBL In 12: one was a replica of the original sewing structure and the other a slightly modified conservation sewing. In the second model, a French link stitch introduces a consolidating link at each of the sewing supports.  The sewing is otherwise the same pattern as the original sewing. It was immediately clear in the models that the French link helped to regulate swelling across the spine. The link stitch at the head and tail of the textblock provides additional support and stability by dropping down two quires rather than just one. I also practised lots of Islamic chevron patterned endbands! Completing these models meant that when we came back to the studio, I felt prepared to start resewing the original manuscript.

Image of sewn model of original structure (top) and with a French link stitch (bottom).
Sewn model of original structure (top) and with a French link stitch (bottom).

Resewing

Before I could start resewing, I completed repairs on the severely damaged original endpapers and guarded them in where there was no conjoint folio. I tacketed any non-standard quires and quires that didn’t sit well together then individually pressed the spine fold of each quire for five seconds in the standing press to reduce excess swell. New sewing supports were made from aerolinen rather than leather: I found that by folding four layers of aerolinen to 12mm in width and pasting them together, I created the best balance of strength and flexibility.

The manuscript was resewn using the original sewing stations, making sure to press down each quire before adding the next and ensure the sewing tension was kept even. The highly burnished Islamic paper was much more prone to tearing when pierced than the printer paper I used for models, so extra care was needed.

CBL In 12: manuscript halfway through resewing (left) and Sophie in the process of resewing the manuscript (right).
CBL In 12: manuscript halfway through resewing (left) and Sophie in the process of resewing the manuscript (right).

Spine lining

I created endpapers using Griffen Mill Samarkand paper with aerolinen joints and added these to the original textblock to provide extra protection: two bifolia at the start of the manuscript and two at the end. I chose to use an Andalusian style spine lining as developed for repair and rebinding of Islamic manuscripts by Ana Beny and Kristine Rose-Beers.1  This technique is still based on an historic Islamic binding typology and offers a non-adhesive alternative to a pasted textile spine lining. To create the spine lining I lined a fine weave linen textile with Japanese Sekishu paper and allowed it to dry. It was attached it to the resewn textblock by sewing it through the spine fold and aerolinen joint of the new endpapers. This structure formed a fundamental attachment between the boards and the textblock.

Image of CBL In 12: Sophie attaching the Andalusian-style spine lining to the textblock.
CBL In 12: Sophie attaching the Andalusian-style spine lining to the textblock.

Endbands

I used the spine lining to form the basis of new rolled endband cores at the head and tail of the textblock. The primary endbands were sewn through the centre of every quire and around the core to further secure the attachment between the spine lining and the manuscript.  A secondary endband was woven in blue and silver threads over the primary endband to make the characteristic chevron pattern. While highly decorative, this type of endband also has a functional purpose; securing the spine structure by uniting the spine lining and the quires, in turn helping to control the opening characteristics of the manuscript.

Image of CBL In 12: Sewing the primary endband (left); finished secondary chevron endband (right).
CBL In 12: Sewing the primary endband (left); finished secondary chevron endband (right).

Board Attachment

The depth of the resewn textblock was too great to fit back into the original binding without disturbing the shrunken original leather (see my previous blog post for more on the initial condition of the manuscript binding), so I created a new binding to protect the textblock. The boards for the binding were made of three layers of 2mm Tschudi Eterno board, cut to size, pasted together and pressed. A 20mm split board attachment allowed the boards to slot onto the spine lining and was pasted up to form the attachment. Again, this was then secured with localised pressure to ensure good adhesion.

Image of CBL In 12: Board attachment - pressing the split board- spine lining attachment to secure it.
CBL In 12: Board attachment - pressing the split board- spine lining attachment to secure it.

Leather

I don’t have a lot of experience working with leather and it is definitely a craft that takes many years to perfect so covering this manuscript was a valuable experience! I chose a deep red Harmatan goat skin, sympathetic to the original binding’s leather. It is a strong and relatively thick material so provides adequate protection for this manuscript.

Using a paper template, I cut out the leather needed to cover CBL In 12 and pared the spine and turn-ins to enable the leather to wrap more comfortably round the textblock and boards. It was hard work paring the leather and challenging to keep it even. I quickly found out the importance of keeping your blade very sharp! I tried out different types of paring knives (thanks to Kristine for lending me her collection) and discovered the wonder of Jeff Peachey tools. I found it easiest to get a clean bevel around the edges using an English-style paring knife with a straight blade and either a modified spokeshave or a curved blade French-style paring knife for thinning larger areas.2

Image of leather paring with a French style knife (left); covering the manuscript (right).
Leather paring with a French style knife (left); covering the manuscript (right).

Once the leather was prepared, I humidified it using a damp cloth and adhered the leather to the boards and spine using a mixture of wheat starch paste. It was important to shape the leather correctly, so every movement had to be considered and purposeful. I mostly used the palm of my hand to press the leather into place as it is easily marked. After allowing it to dry, I finished the corners and created endcaps to complete the binding. Mitred corners especially took some practice to get right – luckily I had many bits of leather and board as well as my models to practise on first.

Image of CBL In 12: Sophie gauging the level of the endcap (left); a finished mitred corner (right).
CBL In 12: Sophie gauging the level of the endcap (left); a finished mitred corner (right).

Lastly, I secured the inner joints, added my doublures (made of Griffin Mill paper wrapped around JPP inlay card) and trimmed the endpapers. After allowing the manuscript to rest for a month I taught it how to open again by individually opening each folio and adjusting the spine on the book cushion as necessary. The final step to complete the treatment is to make a cloth covered drop-back spine box with a drawer for the original lacquer binding so they are kept together.

This was the most complex book conservation treatment I have completed so far and I am very grateful to Kristine and Julia for their time and patience in guiding me through the process. It is hugely rewarding to feel the solidity of the structure after treatment and to know that this beautiful manuscript is now safe to be digitised and accessed. Taking the treatment through each step from start to finish has allowed me to develop my conservation methodology, from documentation to problem solving, research and new practical skills, this project has been an amazing learning opportunity and a thoroughly enjoyable process. It has definitely cemented my interest in Islamic manuscripts and book conservation which is something that I hope to explore further over the next year!

Sophie Coulthard, Conservation Intern 2019/21

We are delighted that Sophie’s internship has been extended for the 2020/21 period thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Council and the Chester Beatty Patrons.

Image of CBL In 12: opening characteristics before (left) and after conservation (right).
CBL In 12: opening characteristics before (left) and after conservation (right).

References

  1. Ana Beny and Kristine Rose-Beers, ‘An Inspiration for Conservation: An Historic Andalusi Binding Structure,’ in Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, Volume 3. Edited by Julia Miller. Ann Arbour, Michigan: The Legacy Press, 2016, pp. 160- 195.
  2. Jeff Peachey, An overview of leather paring tools.
    https://jeffpeachey.com/2017/02/28/an-overview-of-leather-paring-tools/

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