Adhesives

Materials: Part 1

Most historical books will use some kind of glue somewhere in the binding to hold it all together, whether that is to adhere the covering materials down or attach the supports to the boards. Often books will break because the adhesive has failed – becoming brittle, cracking, or losing tack. Other times it is the binding materials that deteriorate, and removing them intact requires removing the old adhesive.

Traditionally, animal glue is the most common adhesive used in bookbinding. This is usually derived from the skin of animals, such as rabbits. It turns liquid upon heating, and makes a strong, flexible glue. Over time this adhesive can deteriorate: exposed to heat and fluctuating environmental conditions the molecules can crosslink and turn the glue hard and brittle.

2. Cooking wheat starch paste (Photo: Nikki Tomkins)
2. Cooking wheat starch paste (Photo: Nikki Tomkins)

When new material is used to help reattach the boards during conservation, that too needs to be adhered into place. Introducing new adhesive into a binding is a considered choice: it’s important to choose a substance that is in keeping historically, can be removed if needed, and suits the materials present both old and new. Japanese Jin-Shofu Wheat Starch Paste is used almost exclusively in the conservation of Crouch’s collection. This is a refined version of flour paste, where the starch is separated from the rest of the wheat. Here in the studio, it is made to a 25% w/v in deionized water concentration, and cooked for 40 minutes until sufficiently tacky.  For binding conservation, the paste is kept dry and viscous. This makes it stronger and reduces the risk of introducing too much moisture into old materials. Moisture can darken old deteriorated leather, or weaken parts of the structure.

In the case of the Crouch volumes, this adhesive has been used liberally on the spine and boards to adhere the covering leather. When the board attachment breaks down, it is necessary to separate the original leather from the spine or the boards. This can usually be done mechanically: using a sharp blade or very thin spatula. Sometimes the spine will need to be cleaned of old glue before applying new linings. Animal glue will soften with moisture, and so a poultice is applied that gradually works on the glue without making the paper spine folds underneath too wet. The glue can then be carefully scraped away.

Sometimes flour pastes are also used in traditional bookbinding. This is derived from wheat flour, where heating the flour in water causes the grains to swell and secrete proteins that create the tackiness. You might find it used to adhere a pastedown, or a tipped in paper page. It is generally less thick and strong as animal glue, and can be more useful for the more fragile paper components in a binding – however, both can be found interchangeably on historic bindings.

When new material is used to help reattach the boards during conservation, that too needs to be adhered into place. Introducing new adhesive into a binding is a considered choice: it’s important to choose a substance that is in keeping historically, can be removed if needed, and suits the materials present both old and new. Japanese Jin-Shofu Wheat Starch Paste is used almost exclusively in the conservation of Crouch’s collection. This is a refined version of flour paste, where the starch is separated from the rest of the wheat. Here in the studio, it is made to a 25% w/v in deionized water concentration, and cooked for 40 minutes until sufficiently tacky.  For binding conservation, the paste is kept dry and viscous. This makes it stronger and reduces the risk of introducing too much moisture into old materials. Moisture can darken old deteriorated leather, or weaken parts of the structure.

3. Wheat starch paste, sieved and ready for application (Photo: Nikki Tomkins)
3. Wheat starch paste, sieved and ready for application (Photo: Nikki Tomkins)

By Nikki Tomkins
Project Conservator

Cataloguing Crouch: detective work

Much of Nicholas Crouch’s library exists as bound volumes which include between two and fifty distinct bibliographic works. These Sammelbände have been kept together in Balliol College Library since at least 1799, shelved among other tract volumes with varied provenance. Within this collection, Crouch’s books are frequently easy to identify due to his meticulous hand-written contents lists; other typical stylistic features of a Crouch binding are described here.

Many of Crouch’s donations to the college were recorded in the Library Benefactions Book, which provides a list of 319 volumes acquired by the library upon Crouch’s death in 1690. However, we know from comparing the records in the Benefactions Book to the items catalogued so far that not all of Crouch’s books were bequeathed at this time. In particular, many of the Crouch volumes composed of 16th century texts are not listed in the Benefactions Book.

Crouch’s name and bequest are recorded in elaborate calligraphy (Balliol College Library Benefactions Book, page 194)
Crouch’s name and bequest are recorded in elaborate calligraphy (Balliol College Library Benefactions Book, page 194)

At present we don’t know precisely when these unlisted items arrived in the library. A small gift of two volumes is recorded in 1656 as ‘P. Fronseca Metaphysica’, but other than this we haven’t found evidence of additional donations from Crouch. One possibility is that Crouch was also purchasing texts for the college library, and that certain volumes were chosen by him but not intended for his personal collection.

From the descriptions, around half of the Crouch items listed in the Benefactions Book appear to be Sammelbände. These volumes are frequently listed as ‘A Collect. of Tracts’, followed by a description of the first (or ‘ye 1st’) item in the volume.

Many items in the Crouch bequest are listed as ‘A Collect. of Tracts’; others are entered under author and title (Balliol College Library Benefactions Book, page 195)
Many items in the Crouch bequest are listed as ‘A Collect. of Tracts’; others are entered under author and title (Balliol College Library Benefactions Book, page 195)

The remainder of the Crouch books are listed under author and title. These works are scattered throughout Balliol’s collections, frequently uncatalogued. Because they contain only a single bibliographical item, they lack Crouch’s distinctive contents lists and are often more difficult to definitively identify.

One characteristic of many of the Crouch volumes catalogued so far is an early shelfmark in the style:

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These shelfmarks appear to be inscribed in Crouch’s distinctive hand:

Shelfmarks side by side with Crouch MS
(Balliol College Library shelfmarks 910 b 8, 300 i 9, 905 c 1, 915 c 7)

Seeking out these shelfmarks will allow us to confirm the Crouch donations recorded in the Benefactions Book, and to identify volumes not listed there. The shelfmarks may also give us clues as to how Crouch arranged his personal library. It’s estimated that there are between 100-200 Crouch books to be located in this way. These volumes will be gathered together and catalogued as part of the current project, and kept with the Sammelbände. In this way, the majority of Crouch’s library will be reunited for the first time in 300 years.

By Lucy Kelsall
Project Cataloguer

Split spines and broken joints

Conservation is continually informed by principles of minimal intervention in considering a treatment’s approach: finding solutions to problems that avoid loss of material and preserve as much of the original structure as possible. In the case of Crouch’s collection, many of the volumes have splits in the spine and detached boards.

The conventional solution would be to reback the volume: removing the original spine, and providing new linings and leather over the spine and onto the boards. This forms part of the board attachment and allows access to reinforce the sewing. Often the original spine is then re-adhered, however this is not always possible when the leather is in a very degraded condition.  Additionally, the introduction of layers of new material on the spine can affect the opening characteristics of small, narrow volumes. Loss of the original spine and the impact on the opening structure are strong arguments for finding an alternative solution.

Example of a detached left board, and split in the spine (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
Example of a detached left board, and split in the spine

It is often easier to lift just the label when the spine covering leather is highly deteriorated. This allows access to the spine where linings of Japanese paper and linen are applied. This not only consolidates weaknesses and break points in the spine, but also forms part of the board attachment.

Replacing the label (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
Replacing the label

Once the label is replaced, the treatment is less visually obtrusive than a reback. Textile and Japanese paper is also used at head and tail of the spine, where the leather is easier to lift. This technique is not as strong for the textblock as rebacking, but it does preserve most of the spine while still imparting considerably more structural strength. The final object is still fragile and should be handled with care, but the boards are reattached and the breaks in the spine are held together.

  1. Removal of the label in one piece, exposing the leather below
  2. Using a poultice of wheat starch paste, the leather and animal glue are scraped away exposing the backs of the sections.
  3. A first layer of Japanese paper is applied using wheat starch paste. This provides a protective barrier between the textblock and subsequent layers, and a primary layer to hold together the sections.
  4. Layer of textile adhered to bridge splits and consolidate the textblock, with extensions either side for the board attachment.
  5. Toned paper adhered, providing an extra layer while also matching the repair to the original covering leather. Textile and toned paper are also inserted at the head and tail of the spine to support the board attachment.
  6. The original label is adhered back in place, and the lining extensions adhered underneath the covering leather on the boards.


By Nikki Tomkins
Project Conservator

Anatomy of a binding

Each aspect of a book’s binding holds information about its history:  from the materials used, to the mechanical structure. A key part of this project is documenting specific aspects of Crouch’s bindings, both to understand their damage and to trace the history of the collection.

The following diagram illustrates some of the key components of a binding:

Key components of a binding (Sketch and photograph by Nikki Tomkins)

Book bindings can vary hugely, and often certain styles and techniques will be specific to one bindery. Crouch’s collection was probably commissioned by Crouch himself, from an Oxford binder. There are clear stylistic similarities throughout the collection. The following diagrams illustrate some of the typical features of a Crouch binding:

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However, among these common stylistic features there is still a great deal of variation: from the tool of the corner fleuron used, to the material of the sewing support and the colours of the endbands.

Examples of different tools used (Sketch and photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
Examples of different tools used
A selection of Crouch bindings displayed fore edge out, as they were probably intended to be (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
A selection of Crouch bindings displayed fore edge out, as they were probably intended to be

Each of these details are documented when an item comes into the studio in order to build up a body of data on the bindings and begin to trace a timeline of when, where and how they were bound together. It will teach us a little more about the mind of Nicholas Crouch, a man who evidently took pride in the organisation of his collection.

By Nikki Tomkins
Project Conservator

Cataloguing Crouch: an introduction

The cataloguing side of the project has now been underway for two months, and over 100 volumes, containing more than 750 items, have been catalogued.

One of the initial surprises with this material is how varied it is in terms of subject matter. Most of the volumes have gold-tooled leather spine labels; these are not contemporary with the bindings but were added at a later point after their arrival in the college library. However, a glance across the spines provides a useful ‘rough guide’ to the collection.

Many of Crouch’s books in the second half of the collection are labelled ‘Medical’, as one might expect from the collection of a physician. In contrast, most of the early volumes are labelled ‘Miscellaneous’. Crouch collected on subjects including (but not limited to!) religion, science, politics, language, travel, poetry, philosophy and mathematics.

 

Tractatus miscellanei: the early part of the collection is varied in subject matter (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Tractatus miscellanei: the early part of the collection is varied in subject matter
Tractatus medici: many of the later books in the collection are related to medicine (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Tractatus medici: many of the later books in the collection are related to medicine

One of the most striking features of Crouch’s library is his meticulous hand-written contents lists. Crouch would frequently inscribe on the endpapers of a volume a list of the titles inside, often including individual prices, the price of binding and the name of the binder. This makes the collection a fascinating source for the history of the book trade.

Occasionally these contents lists will span four or five pages; Crouch would often include details of the title, author and price of each item, and sometimes imprint dates. In none of the works catalogued so far has he noted the date of purchase or binding.

Above left: contents list for an item bound by Doe (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 4)

Above right: contents list for an item bound by Ingram (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 3)

Crouch would often annotate his texts, usually with factual information: bibliographical references, corrections, hand-written indexes. So far the tone of his marginalia appears to be brisk and pedantic. The MS contents lists are carefully laid out, using a grid of ruled lines to assist. Crouch even drew lines to ensure his marginal notes were level. Sometimes these ruled lines appear without corresponding marginal notes. This seems a curious oversight for one so thorough: did he intend to return and annotate at a later point?

Above left: an example of Crouch’s factual marginalia (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 i 1 (7))

Above right: ruled lines without marginalia (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 4 (3))

Crouch’s keen mathematical eye is evident in his careful calculations and corrections. He will often step in to improve or clarify a computation.

In the example below, a 1678 text with the title Artificial versifying enthusiastically promises that ‘any one of ordinary capacity, that only knows the A.B.C. and can count 9 (though he understands not one word of Latin, or what a verse means) may be plainly taught (and in as little time, as this is reading over) how to make thousands of hexameter and pentameter verses which shall be true Latine, true verse, and good sense’.

A further claim that such a person may make ‘Six hundred thousand different Latine Verses’ is swiftly disproved by Crouch, in a note that will not fit in the margin: ‘That is, there may be made 531,441 verses, which is the Cube=cube of 9, and noe more, I suppose.’

Above: Crouch is affronted by a vague estimate (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 d 2 (3b))

These initial glimpses of Crouch’s character will, we hope, be supplemented by further finds as the cataloguing continues. It will be particularly interesting to see how Crouch’s annotations in these early ‘miscellaneous’ texts compare with his notes in the later medical works. With between two and three thousand individual items yet to be catalogued, much remains to be discovered!

By Lucy Kelsall
Early Printed Books Cataloguer