Repairing Democracy

Amongst the books treated during the conservation project were two volumes from a set of four of A. Tocqueville’s De la Démocratie en Amérique, volumes 3 and 4. The books were bound in half leather bindings with hollow backs and marbled paper sides as is typical in the 19th century, but the leather and tooling were different in volumes 3 and 4 and they were also more damaged. Each of the books had both boards detached and most of the spines missing, and the original plan was to re-attach the boards and make new leather spines. It was only after the two books were brought to the conservation studio for treatment that an envelope with fragments of the two detached spines was found in the library and they could be reunited with the books.

The repair of the books was very similar to the treatment described in the previous conservation blog: ‘The slot machine: Reuniting boards with books’. The remains of split paper hollows were removed and both spines were lined with aerocotton which strengthens the spine and to which the boards can be attached. To make sure the fabric was firmly fixed to the spine and not relying only on adhesive, the lining was sewn through to the outer quires as well and the books were ready for board attachment. In this case the lining extensions were pasted to the outside of boards, underneath the leather cover, and left to dry before making a tube hollow for each of the books. The spines were now ready for covering. When pieced together, the original spines were nearly complete with only very small fragments missing. This meant that only small portions of the any new spine covering material would be seen and that toned Japanese paper would be sufficient the cover the tube hollow and book joints. Once the original spines were pasted back, the books were finished and ready to join the others on the shelf.


— Katarina Powell, Conservator, Oxford Conservation Consortium