Conservation Treatment of an Oversize Ledger Binding with Canvas Cover

Canvas covers protect many oversize ledger bindings in TSLAC’s collection. Like modern paper covers for children’s textbooks, canvas covers were meant to safeguard government records through years of heavy use. Unlike modern paper covers, canvas covers are original to their bindings. They feature leather corners and decorative paper doublures (seen when the book opens) that match the volume.

General Index to Court of Criminal Appeals, 1919-1947 (19 3/4” x 16” x 4”) with damaged canvas cover.

General Index to Court of Criminal Appeals, 1919-1947 (19 3/4” x 16” x 4”) with damaged canvas cover.

Inside the book, the canvas cover is backed with stiff card. Leather corners, decorative paper, and manufacturer’s labels on the cover match the original binding.

Inside the book, the canvas cover is backed with stiff card. Leather corners, decorative paper, and manufacturer’s labels on the cover match the original binding.

Today, tattered canvas covers present a conservation conundrum. Is the cover simply a disposable protective layer at the end of its useful life? Or is it an inherent part of the binding that should be preserved? Given the abundance of government ledger bindings, can full treatment be justified and time-efficient?

These questions shaped treatment of the General Index to Court of Criminal Appeals, 1919-1947. Frequent use of this 40 lb+ book had left its canvas cover frayed and torn, with large losses at its edges and all along its spine. An ideal treatment would preserve legibility of labeling on the canvas cover and the exposed book’s spine for the use of reading room staff.

A treatment was designed to retain and stabilize the canvas cover. First, losses were filled with toned muslin. In order to achieve reversibility and prevent adhesive strike-through, heat-set tissue was applied beneath the torn edges of the canvas. Shaped, toned muslin patches were then adhered with PVA to bridge canvas losses.

Inserting toned muslin fills beneath canvas backed with heat-set tissue.

IInserting toned muslin fills beneath canvas backed with heat-set tissue.

Repairs to the spine leather were completed with linen-backed toned tissue. Then, the remaining segments of canvas cover were secured to the binding using a modified reback treatment. A reback is a common spine repair method in circulating collections. Since our canvas spine cover was missing, the remaining canvas cover was rebacked to the book’s original spine covering. This involved lifting material in the book’s hinges, adhering the loose canvas on the board’s inner edge with reversible Lascaux, and reattaching the original covering material.

Preparing hinge region to “reback” the remaining canvas cover to the book’s exposed spine covering.

Preparing hinge region to “reback” the remaining canvas cover to the book’s exposed spine covering.

In creating a hybrid structure of canvas cover and original binding, this treatment acknowledges both elements as integral parts of the volume. The treatment is aesthetically tidy, stabilizes the volume for ongoing use, and remains reversible with heat and solvent. The treatment required approximately 10 hours to complete, which is not unrealistic for other, prioritized volumes with similar condition issues.

Future versions of this treatment might revisit the use of heat-set tissue, which may prove to be somewhat too reversible in this application. In place of heat-set, inconspicuous sewing could improve durability while maintaining reversibility and aesthetic compatibility. However, sewing would be complicated by the inability to turn the cover inside out. TSLAC Conservation welcomes thoughts and discussion about this treatment.

Before treatment

Before treatment

After treatment

Before treatment

Before treatment

After treatment

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?

Canvas Covers

A great many of our bound Texas government materials have an accompanying canvas cover.  These covers are frequently seen on oversized, hand-inscribed stationer’s bindings, and many have not fared well.

Early 20th century Texas court index, with a typically battered canvas cover.

These covers seem to have had mixed effects on their books over years of use.  While they do provide protection from light, they can also abrade delicate leather surfaces.

The canvas cover's footprint is visible around the edges of the board. Notice the faded leather at the bottom edge, as well as the abraded suede in all areas except the foreedge.

The pervasive nature of these covers seems to suggest that their use was systematic, or perhaps mandated, by certain state institutions.  There’s even evidence that the covers were contemporaneous with the bindings.

Inside the boards, we see that the canvas cover was made with doublures to match the binding's marbled pastedowns.

Addressing these covers appropriately is a challenge within a conservation treatment.  Despite their contemporaneous appearance, it is difficult to justify the time needed to formulate and execute a treatment for the cover when so many similar items need extensive attention to more fundamental issues.  The right conservation approach to these covers is an open issue on which I’d welcome comments.

I’d also love to learn more about the use and construction of these canvas covers.  Do they appear in other state or government archives?  Who made them and when?  Who decided they should be made?  What types of items received them?