Contraband Reader,

I’ve been restoring a small early 17th century work over the last few weeks – a volume of Robert Bolton’s Last Learned Work that I’d bought a little while back in a fairly ruined state. It was lacking the title page and, even though it was sold to me with ‘only one other page missing beyond that’, it turned out that a couple of other pages within the book had vanished over the last four hundred years too.

Aside from various tears to several pages, the boards were missing and the spine had only the barest remnant of a covering. Allow me, then, to blog a little about it!

The damaged book as it looked when it arived - the top tear was actually across the entire page, but some fellow antiquarian had in some years passed glued the inner corner to the page behind it.

The damaged book as it looked when it arrived – the top tear was actually across the entire page, but some fellow antiquarian had in some years passed glued the inner corner to the page behind it.

The first job was to undo the few remains of repairs that would obstruct the reconstruction of the book – namely the separation of the top of the first page that was glued to the page behind it, and then remove some later covering material from the spine.

Once that was done I went through each page that needed repair and added repair paper – this involved pasting the repair paper over each tear and pressing the page repairs until dry, then removing them from the press and trimming the new paper.

Oh look, some repair paper

Oh look, some repair paper

With the paper trimmed, I used one of my artist pens to go over some areas of printing that were missing because they were either obscured by the over-lap of the repair paper, or the original paper had been lost.


The next job was to sew some new bands into the spine to make it a bit more structurally sound – I always find this the dullest part of binding a book!


The book now needed some end papers – Cockerell, that master of all things book-binding recommends end papers to only be added when the binding is finished; personally I’ve never been able to get that quite right, so this is the point that I personally find it easiest to add papers to the book.

One thing was missing still though – the title page – so after a little research I identified the edition and drew out a new title page based on one that was available on Google Books. (I wish I was only as lucky on every book that I need to try and find a replica title page for!)


The new title page, with a minor addition by myself as a subtitle

Next up was shaping the boards – I’d sewn three bands onto the book but was tempted to add fake bands and in fact have seven bands across the book in the final binding – judge as you will, dear Reader, I decided against that in the end.


Once that was done I made the holes in the boards and sewed in the header and footer bands (a new skill only just added to my amateur book-binder’s repertoire), the boards could then be attached and at last the old volume started to look more like a book once more!


I’d also added some leather bands over the top of the sewn string to give a more defined band on the finished binding – a trick I use on a few books that need a nearer-to-medieval look on the finished spine

Then to the leather! I’ve got a wonderful piece of blue leather that I am loathed to use on any piece of work – for a book as old as this I thought it had earned my best piece of leather for it’s binding. Still, I was mean enough with the amount of leather I was willing to use that I decided on a half binding.


Once the leather was on and tidied up, I added the marbled paper to the boards and gilding on the spine panels: At last, a finished book!



And there we have it – adieu, Happy Reader!