We love our books, but sometimes things can go wrong. A sad reality about books is that they have limited strength. Spines crack, hinges weaken, leather and paper deteriorate. Here in the Library, we collect for use by our researchers. And each time a book is opened, it breaks down a little more. When we opened a box last year and found a bevy of distressed tomes, we knew we had to act.

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Can you believe how spineless some books are?

With the help of our members, we raised the funds to take the first set of broken books to the book doctor. I had a chance to visit Nancy Delaney of Delaney Book Restorations and look in on the progress of the restoration work.

The workshop. Nancy has restored antiquarian books by hand for years.
The workshop. Nancy has restored antiquarian books by hand for years.

 

The Lady's Equestrian Guide. This book is getting a complete re-binding, as the old cloth binding fell off entirely.
The Lady’s Equestrian Guide. This book is getting a complete re-binding, as the old cloth binding fell off entirely.

 

Our adopted books are currently being re-stitched, providing strength and stability before new covers are added.
Our adopted books are currently being re-stitched, providing strength and stability before new covers are added.

 

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Even the spineless can find redemption with a little help! A cloth liner is being added to restore the hinges before a new leather spine is added.

 

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It’s not enough to add new leather. The strengthening extends into the boards to extend the life of the book.

 

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“The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell,” a fore-edge book, is getting new leather today.

 

First, the replacement leather is cut.
First, the replacement leather is cut.

 

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And then it’s fitted to the book. Before the leather is attached, it will go through skiving to thin and trim the thickness of the leather.

 

The skiving process is necessary with leather to hide everything beneath the outer layer: leather show everything, and we don’t want the new spine to have bumps, creases or ripples.

We’re thrilled with the restoration work, and look forward to getting images of the fully restored volumes. And keep an eye out for our next round of book adoption opportunities this November!


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

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You can find a lot of surprises in a collection of 27,000 books that spans 493 years of publishing, printing, and binding. Here are three of the most surprising types of rare books you can find in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room here at NSLM.

3. Presentation Copies

Howitt's Animals, by Samuel Howitt (1765-1822), a collection of proofs of Howitt's sporting etchings. Inscription (right): "The gift of Samuel Howitt, who etched them, to his friend William Edkins." A letter to Edkins (left) is pinned to the facing page.
Howitt’s Animals, by Samuel Howitt (1765-1822), a collection of proofs of Howitt’s sporting etchings. Inscription (right): “The gift of Samuel Howitt, who etched them, to his friend William Edkins.” A letter to Edkins (left) is pinned to the facing page.

Strictly speaking, a presentation copy is a book that was presented by the author as a gift to a friend or relative. Often, the gift is memorialized in the front pages of the book through an inscription of the gift. Presentation copies are usually early copies printed specifically to be given as gifts, and will bear the inscription on or near the date of publication. Many authors inscribed presentation copies in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and modern authors tend to tip in a typed and signed slip commemorating the gift.

 

2. Cosway Bindings

The Compleat Angler, by Izaak Walton (1594-1683). Chiswick: The Caradoc Press, 1905. This Cosway Binding features a portrait of Walton on ivory and under glass, all laid into a beautiful front board.
The Compleat Angler, by Izaak Walton (1594-1683). Chiswick: The Caradoc Press, 1905. This Cosway Binding features a portrait of Walton on ivory and under glass, all laid into a beautiful front board.

A book with a Cosway binding has a miniature portrait inlaid in the cover binding. Introduced and popularized in the early 20th Century, this rare binding is named for Richard Cosway (1742-1821), a British artist renowned for his miniature paintings. Books with Cosway bindings are sought after as collectibles.

 

1. Fore-Edge Paintings

Fishing Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right. The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, London, Edward Moxon, 1840.
Fishing Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right. The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, London: Edward Moxon, 1840.

Fore-edge painting is the practice of painting tiny images on the edges of book pages. The practice is nearly unheard-of in the United States, but is still practiced by a few artists in Europe today. Fore-edge painting became popular in the middle of the 19th Century, with amateur artists painting watercolors on books with expensive leather bindings. Paintings are often gilt over to hide the artwork, which only emerges when pages are turned. Check your collection! You might have a fore-edge painting and not even know it.