Image of CBL Ar 5655 opening characteristics after conservation.

Part 3: CBL Ar 5655, Rebinding a “Manual on the Arts of Horsemanship”

11 September, 2020

In Julia’s past two blog posts, she’s shared her experience of documenting, disbinding and repairing CBL Ar 5655, a beautiful Mamluk manual on the Arts of Horsemanship. In her final post on this subject, she will discuss the process of rebinding the manuscript on her return to the lab after lockdown.

You can read Part 1 and Part 2 of Julia’s research and conservation treatment of CBL Ar 5655 here.

With some of the Covid-19 restrictions lifted mid-June in Ireland, I was able to return to the museum. The safety measures put in place by the Conservation Department meant that I was in the studio three out of five days per week. This allowed me to effectively focus my lab time with hands-on projects, whilst working on the paperwork and research side of the work when at home. Completing the rebinding of Ar 5655 was my focus from the start, as the conservation work had come to a halt when Ireland locked down in mid-March. 

While documenting the manuscript and binding before starting conservation treatment, I recorded the placement of the three sewing stations in use, as well as evidence of two previous sewing stations. Through visual observation and thread impressions, it appeared that these were the original 14th century sewing stations Therefore, I resewed the manuscript textblock using these two sewing stations. I used an unsupported link-stitch which I reinforced with a double link, dropping down two quires at each station 

CBL Ar 5655 during resewing at two stations.

CBL Ar 5655 during resewing at two stations.

After sewing, an adapted Andalusian spine lining was sewn to the textblock to provide spine support and a means of board re-attachment (1). This construction provides conservators with an adhesive free, hollow lining on the manuscript spine and was observed in examples of historic Islamic book structures 

The historic endbands of Ar 5655 were extremely damaged, and only partially recovered. It was not possible to re-integrate these fragments with the new structure. However, endbands are an important component of the binding structure so I needed to make new ones. Rather than the yellow silk thread wrapped in silver foil and pink thread seen in the fragmentary endbands, I decided to introduce new red and green threads to better match the existing green silk and cherry red leather binding. The previous endbands were not the manuscript’s original endbands, so I decided that this small change would be acceptable. The structural endband sewing at head and tail of the new spine lining provides extra strength, and works with the spine lining to ensure better opening characteristics and movement of the rebound textblock 

Sewing a new twined endband on CBL Ar 5655 (left), and the finished endband after rebinding (right).

Sewing a new twined endband on CBL Ar 5655 (left), and the finished endband after rebinding (right).

The existing binding was intact and in good condition with the two binding boards still attached to the existing leather spine. However, the spine was tight and did not fit around the newly conserved textblock. Fortunately, the binding was constructed using the two-piece spine technique (2), and the two layers of leather could be lifted and separated. This allowed me to reattach the upper and lower boards individually. I split the pasteboards mechanically to allow the spine lining flanges to be inserted and adhered fully in a split-board attachment. The lower board was reattached first, so that the envelope flap could be positioned exactly around the textblock. Next, the upper board was aligned flush above it. 

The detached and separated historic boards of CBL Ar 5655 (left), and during upper board attachment (right).

The detached and separated historic boards of CBL Ar 5655 (left), and during upper board attachment (right).

An acrylictoned Sekishu Japanese paper was adhered to the spine lining before the two separated pieces of spine leather were laid down over it.  I used a combination of wheat starch paste and Lascaux 498, to avoid darkening of the leather. The spine area was further worked using toned Tengujo Japanese tissue to conceal the joints, and smooth the overlap of the leather on the spine. Finally, I applied a layer of SC6000 to the paper, to integrate the texture and prevent pilling.

The repaired spine of CBL Ar 5655 after conservation.

The repaired spine of CBL Ar 5655 after conservation.

The completion of this project has been very exciting. Taking a manuscript from a damaged and unstable state of preservation, through to being accessible by scholars and visitors once again is extremely rewarding. Although the paper of the manuscript textblock was overall in good condition, the broken sewing structure and detached spine and cover meant that this manuscript could not be accessed as it deserved. The resewn manuscript reuses most of the historical binding components, while contemporary conservation principles have created a sympathetic structure which allows the manuscript to function. The historic spine lining and endbands which could not be reintegrated will be preserved alongside the conserved textblock 

CBL Ar 5655 opening characteristics before conservation (left), and after conservation (right).

CBL MS Ar 5655 opening characteristics before conservation (left), and after conservation (right).

Taking the time to document the historical structure of this manuscript has been worthwhile, and is always one of my favourite steps in any conservation project. Careful visual examination of a binding can answer many questions about provenance and historical bindings techniques, as well as uncovering some original features such as the 14th century sewing stations seen in this case. 

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator.  


(1) Beny, Ana & Kristine Rose-Beers, “An Inspiration for Conservation: An Historic Andalusi Binding Structure,Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, Volume 3. Ann Arbour: The Legacy Press, 2016, pp. 160-195. 

(2) Rose, Kristine‘Conservation of the Turkish Collection at the Chester Beatty Library: A new study of Turkish book construction,Conservation and the Eastern Mediterranean, contributions to the Istanbul Congress 20-24th September 2010. London: International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic works, 2010, pp. 45-49. 

Scheper, Karin, The technique of Islamic bookbinding: methods, materials and regional varieties, Brill: Leiden, 2015

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