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Elements of Book Repair

Below are illustrated examples of some of the most common repairs required to old books. Information is given as a guide only to illustrate the work which may be necessary. It should be emphasised that we will need to inspect the book carefully before we are able to offer a firm quotation, based on the specific needs and condition of the book in question.
 Example of Fault
 Description and Approach to Repair
Board Detatched
One of the most common faults in old books due to excessive wear and/or weak construction. The cover at the joint with the spine - usually leather - has weakened and deteriorated so has lost its strength. The material has cracked and eventually the cords or tapes holding the cover on are broken, so the cover detaches completely.
If the book block itself is sound, the book can be reassembled by removing the spine and replacing the 'mull', the material on the inside of the cover which holds the cover to the spine. It may also be appropriate to replace the tapes or cords. A new spine is applied with, if appropriate, the old spine laid on top and this new material is inserted under the old leather at the spine edge of the board to form a new joint.
Weak Hinges
Often, when the inner hinge becomes weak, it could be the first stages of the board becoming detached. It may be necessary to dismantle the book and repair the whole spine as described above but, if the damage is mainly cosmetic, the hinge can be strengthened by adding a new strip of suitable material which is largely hidden by the endpapers. Depending on their condition, it may be appropriate to replace the endpapers altogether, which actually makes this a much more straightforward repair.
Split Joints
Again, this is one of the first stages of the board becoming detached. However, if the inner hinge is still strong (the boards are well secured to the book block) it may be appropriate to just remove the spine and replace the spine material and create new joints with the boards still in place. In this way the inner materials and endpapers remain largely  untouched
Damaged Corners
An extremely common problem with older books caused mainly by shelf wear - the book sliding on and off the shelf, as well as routine knocks and bumps. Not only does the leather or covering material get worn away, but the corner of the board itself starts fraying.
Here, the remaining covering material is lifted inside and out and a small piece of matching material is glued into position. The board itself is also glued and pressed to strengthen the corner, and finally the original material glued back on top of the new material, so only the minimum amount of new covering is visible.
Spine Head or Tail is Damaged
Again, this problem is often due to heavy shelf wear, or due to rough handling when the book is pulled off the shelf by its spine. The headbands are intended to prevent this type of damage, but can themselves be weakened over time.
To resolve this problem, a piece of new material can be inserted under the original spine covering and folded over at the top to form a new spine head or tail. This new material may also extend onto the boards to create a strong end to the joint. This approach is only appropriate where the joints remain strong and intact, otherwise the spine may have to be removed and the whole repaired as described above. A new piece of headband may be applied to add both decoration and strength. If the headbands needs to be hand sewn, where retaining the original structure is important, it may be necessary to remove the spine.
Damage to Spine Cover
A common fault on older books, often due to deterioration of the leather due to sunlight or other factors. The spine material becomes brittle and crumbly, the label may have been lost or damaged and the head and tail will often be missing.
Usually the only thing to do here is remove the spine and replace it with a new one, as when there are split joints. It may be necessary to replace the headbands and strenthen the backbone of the book before matching in a new spine. If it is good enough, the old spine covering may be glued on top of the new material to retain the original look. Old labels can be used as a template to produce new labels in a  similar style. Where there is gold tooling on the spine, this can usually be reproduced, if necessary, or a new design added if one is required.