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Bookbinding Project #42: Restoring Primitive Physic

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In 1747 John Wesley wrote a book called Primitive Physic being an ‘easy and natural method of curing most diseases’. To this he added a ‘general receipt book containing upwards of four hundred of the most useful and valuable receipts’. This book offers an entertaining insight into mid-18th century medicine and domestic life.

While doing the rounds of charity shops on the lookout for a book restoration project, I was asked to see what I could do with a very distressed edition of Wesley’s book published in 1847. The following images show that the book was in a poor state of repair and virtually unusable; the covers were falling off; the first half-dozen signatures had come adrift, and the whole thing felt very fragile.

front cover

front cover

back cover

back cover

spine

spine

loose signatures

loose signatures

The first stage in repairing a book in this condition has the frightening title of ‘tearing apart’. In this instance it was very easy to remove the covers; I simply looked at them and they fell off. Slightly trickier was cutting all the threads to separate the signatures and then easing away as much of the old glue as possible. This was particularly difficult and slow work because it felt as though the pages would rip easily; but my confidence grew as I learnt the strength of the paper.

detaching the covers

detaching the covers

separating the signatures

separating the signatures

With a clean set of eighteen signatures, the next step was to work out where the tapes and the new stitches would go. Holding the signature in a clamp between two pieces of cover board, I could judge where to place the tapes so as to avoid all previous holes. I measured the positions and transferred the readings to a piece of board. It’s important to pierce holes in the signatures before starting to stitch. My technique for this is to clamp the signature and the marked-up board to the bench and pierce the signature at the positions marked on the board (see the illustration below).

working out tape location

working out tape location

preparing to pierce a signature

preparing to pierce a signature

With the signatures pierced the relaxing task of sewing them back together could begin. I say relaxing, and mostly it was, but I had to stop a few times to reinforce some of the pages where they were worn out; you simply cannot sew fresh air; it has no grip. This was the first book in which I had to use more than one length of thread. I attached a second piece with a bowline, positioning the knot over one of the tapes (see the image below). After the text block was sewn, I attached a strip of mull with a generous amount of glue. The project was beginning to feel more like a book again.

the sewn textblock

the sewn textblock

attaching the mull

attaching the mull

While the mull was drying I thought about how the cover would look. I searched the web for photos of the original covers, but none were to be found. I came across somebody selling a copy of Primitive Physic on ebay, but its covers were just as unattractive as those I had removed. However, the spine image was decent enough, so I decided that I would put a fairly plain cover on the book itself and create a dust jacket to give it some character.

When the mull was dry I attached endpapers, made from 100gsm vellum laid paper, and rounded the corners to match the book. I trimmed the tapes and mull and started to make the case using 1mm grey board and black buckram for the rounded spine.

trimmed text block with endpapers attached

trimmed text block with endpapers attached

hard back with rounded spine

hard back with rounded spine

The next task was to cover the boards with a suitable card. I chose a colour that matched both the endpapers and the somewhat discoloured pages of the book. The dust jacket was made creating the design in Word and printing on a Ryman P1 label (A4 size). I attached the label to an A4 sheet of 100gsm bright white paper and then covered the label with self-adhesive cover film (sticky-backed plastic). After trimming to size, I scored the inside faces of the jacket so it would wrap easily around the book. Finally, I cut bevels in the flaps and the job was done.

completed book

completed book

dust jacket

dust jacket

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2013

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Written by netkingcol

December 16, 2013 at 10:02 pm

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