A Green Parchment Binding

One of the books selected for treatment during the Minton Archive conservation project is this rather handsome green parchment volume (SD1705/MS1583). Dated post-1827, it contains designs for ornaments and shapes, executed in graphite pencil and watercolour wash.

Green parchment binding with missing spine

As you can see, the spine of the book is completely missing, but other elements of the structure reveal that it was originally a springback. (See my previous post on springbacks to learn more about this binding structure.) While lots of the Minton pattern books are springbacks, this volume is more unusual in the collection, in that it is covered in parchment instead of leather.

What is parchment?

There is a common confusion that parchment is a synonym for ‘old paper’, but actually parchment has more in common than leather than paper. Whereas paper is made out of cellulose fibres (which can be derived from various sources such as rags or woodpulp), parchment is actually untanned animal skin – usually goat, calf, or sheep. (‘Vellum’ is a more specific term for parchment made out of calfskin.) To make parchment, the skin is treated in lime, scraped clean of hairs, then dried under tension and scraped thin to make sheets. The finer parchment was (and still is!) used for a writing surface, but parchment was also used to cover books – like the example you see here.

Goatskin parchment drying under tension. (©User:jmhuculak (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Why is this parchment green?

Green parchment was made by colouring parchment with a green pigment – most commonly the copper-based pigment ‘Verdigris’, though other preparations were likely also used. During the eighteenth century, it became rather a fashion to cover stationery bindings in green parchment. This carried on into the nineteenth century, so that there are numerous examples of springbacks of this kind. Older examples also exist, with references to green parchment reaching back to the fifteenth century.

Weak and broken sewing within the book

What’s in store for SD1705/MS1583?

The treatment of SD1705/MS1583 is already underway. The original sewing had weakened over time and the glue on the spine was brittle and failing, leaving the book with an unstable text block. This has now been repaired and resewn, so that the book is now almost ready to receive a smart new spine. The treatment will reinstate the volume’s original springback structure, and the new spring will be covered in parchment, dyed green to match the boards. Unfortunately, I won’t be dyeing the repair parchment with Verdigris – instead I’ll be using synthetic leather dyes, which are rather less romantic! However, the outcome will match the aesthetic of the original volume and the book will be available once again for users of the archive to consult.

The treatments described in this blog post and others in the Conservation series are carried out by a qualified conservator. If you have an item in need of conservation, it is always best to ask a conservator for advice. In the UK and Ireland, you can find a conservator through the Institute of Conservation’s Conservation Register.

The Minton Archive one-year conservation project is funded by:
Logos of the Art Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, The Wolfson Foundation, and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust