Oversize Books, Oversize Spine Coverings

I recently completed a treatment on which I’d be very interested to receive some conservation feedback. 

Here at TSLAC, we have a great many oversize ledger bindings used as account books in various functions of state government.  These bindings often feature rather sculptural spine coverings – stiff, thick board shaped into an aggressive round with very proud false bands and an abundance of gold stamping. 

The difficulty with many of these spine coverings is that they’re simply too large.  As you may be able to see in the following photo, the round of the spine covering extends far beyond the round of the text block.  This creates excessive stress in the joints when the book is opened, and as a result, I usually make these books’ acquaintance when the spine covering has detached.

Oversize Spine Covering

The stiff spine covering extends well into the hinge area.

It’s fairly straightforward to reattach the spine covering and replace lost material in the joint, but oftentimes this just gives new life to the same old problem.  In this case, I tried simple reattachment, but the book would only open about 45 degrees before the board began to collide with the stiff spine covering and impede opening.  I reversed this treatment before the book did so itself and went back to the drawing board.


The board and spine covering begin fighting Round Two; the board will likely win a second time.

In the past, I have tried trimming these spine coverings to a better fit.  But there are drawbacks to this approach – trimming requires a lot of patient hand-cutting and a wealth of blades.  Additionally, as in this case, the spine coverings are often gold-stamped out to their very edges.  I needed another way to more closely align the shoulders of the spine covering with the shoulders of the text block.

Eventually, I landed upon the idea of using a spacer to set the spine covering back from the shoulders.  To achieve this effect, I adhered a closed-cell Volara foam inside the spine covering and then attached this construction to a new hollow tube on the spine.  I then filled the joints with toned Japanese tissue coated with SC6000.

Adhering Volara

Adhering the Volara strip inside the spine covering produces a pleasing ants-on-a-log effect.

The result is a book that can safely open without damaging itself, especially when used in a cradle, as is our reading room policy for these oversize items.  The other result is a very bulky headcap.  This appearance would seem gauche, except that the original construction also appeared overbuilt, and the item’s overall design never relied much on subtlety.

Bulky headcap

Spine covering with Volara spacer and toned Japanese tissue on hollow tube.

I’m very curious to hear thoughts on this treatment.  Has anyone used Volara within a treatment rather than within a housing, as is more traditional?  Any ideas about the long-term wear of a design like this?

3 thoughts on “Oversize Books, Oversize Spine Coverings

  1. Fascinating solution, Sarah. I have only used Volara for housings, so I will be very interested to see how the material holds up over time (and use) within an actual binding. However it goes, I think you took a well-calculated risk to alleviate the binding’s structural problems. Even if the Volara eventually starts to break down, you have reduced the stress that ordinary wear-and-tear would have caused to the binding in the meantime. Kudos to your creativity!

  2. Have a look at springback bindings, the spine is like that in order to throw up the textblock of ledger and account books with a snap when opened so that the pages lie flat enough to write on.

    You can see an exploded view of the structure here: http://thebookandpapergathering.org/2013/10/20/some-forwarding-techniques-for-springback-bindings-2/

    I can’t really see in the image you posted but if your boards have broken off then yours would seem to have the heavy card spring but not the equally important heavy duty hinge. If you get them in the future and only the covering material is degraded but the inner hinge still there and functioning then not to worry, the important structural bit is still there 🙂

    Keep well, and nice blog,


    • Thanks for your comment. While this item wasn’t a springback, the springback construction can be a useful one for considering the heavy-duty construction of oversize ledgers. In this example, the boards were still attached and other components of the binding remained functional. However, given that the spine covering contains primary identifying information and is such an intentionally crafted part of the item’s aesthetics, its loss is of real concern. The loss of spine coverings in these bindings is a common issue for which I periodically brainstorm non-adhesive solutions that could be implemented by librarians and collections managers rather than conservators. Perhaps that’s for another blog entry in the future.

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