Rare Books Digest hosts opinions and views of international book trade professionals such as the one this week from contributor, book restorer, Alexandros Deligiorgis of Bibliodesia in Athens, Greece. (http://www.facebook.com/bibliodesia)
When we have to deal with old books, whose covers are missing, and they are seriously damaged or not bound, and need to be restored, what type of binding should we create?
Mostly, we come across books in old bindings – not necessarily the original ones – whose covers are not functional anymore. I mean that they are only decorative and do not protect the block of the sewed papers, which is their original and most important function. In many other cases, the covers are absent, and we have no idea whatsoever what they originally looked like.
So, we have to determine what solution would be the best. Sometimes, in cases where we have a non functional binding, we can restore it to be functional once again. Some other times we can restore it esthetically and create the suitable box to keep safe the whole volume. Of course, there are cases where the binding has to be replaced because it’s seriously damaged. In such a case, a new binding is created, thus preserving only the pattern of the original one. A non acid cardboard box has to be made to house the book in its new binding, along with its former one. Many collectors wonder what “new look” should be suitable in this case. There are three options; the first is to create the same type of binding, but “mute” without any tooling, using similar leather or paper. This option is in use generally in Italy, with some exceptions of course. The second is to duplicate the original binding. Mostly, this is what the French laboratories do, because they use a large variety of antique original bookbinding tools for gilding. The third option is to reproduce the binding of the era when the book was printed. Sometimes, we come across books in much later bindings. Many times, we have the opportunity to establish the type of the original binding by observing carefully some aspects. In such cases, it is preferable to create the original type of binding due to its “conservation” capabilities. Such binding is the type of limp vellum (without cardboards inside), sometimes with folded-over wrappers and almost no use of glue in the interior of the spine. This type was in use generally from the 16th through to the 17th centuries, especially in Italy and France. Its appearance may be “poor”, but it has unique conservation capabilities, due to the little use of glue and the neutral Ph of the vellum, which was in immediate contact with the paper.
I would like now to refer to the so called “remboitage”. This is the practice of using the cover of a book for another book, in order to combine the original aspects. The perfect combination would be to have a coeval cover to fit. Of course we have to keep in mind that the volume has to fit exactly in the cover, so it is very difficult to gain the perfect combination, and of course we have to avoid creating a “Frankenstein-like” volume! To my mind, it is imperative to avoid the “massacre” of an old cover and an old book. To me, this is what the perfect remboitage would be. I recently purchased from a colleague two early 19th century full leather covers, compiled by Bartholomaeus Koutloumousianus, printed in Venice by the Greek typography of Phoenix. They were in fair condition because the owner of the books wanted my colleague to create a new fancy cover! Luckily, I happen to own copies of the same edition. The two volumes sewed together in one, in a much later but heavily damaged cover. In this case, it would be excellent to separate them and fit each one in its respective original cover, since the dimensions are perfect and historically this was the first and original binding.