Conserving Early Minton Pattern Books 1 & 2: Part 1

As part of the Minton Archive conservation project, which I introduced back in my first blog post, I have the privilege of conserving the earliest Minton pattern books. In this two-part series, I will go through the process of conserving Early Minton Pattern Books 1 and 2 from start to finish.

Early Minton Pattern Books 1 and 2 are a matching pair of small, lovely books bound in straight-grained red goat leather. The binding style is ‘tightback’, meaning that the leather is glued directly onto the spine of the text block. Pattern Book 1 is full of delightful teacup designs, while Pattern Book 2 contains a variety of designs and borders. The designs are executed in ink, pencil, and watercolour wash.

Early Minton Pattern Books 1 (left) and 2 (right), before treatment

Over time, both of these books had become rather worse for wear: the boards were detached or unstable, the spine leather deteriorating (and in the case of Pattern Book 1, split in half), the sewing broken in places, some of the pages loose, and there were numerous tears in the paper. Both books were also both covered in self-adhesive library film, and had occasional ‘repairs’ of self-adhesive tape within the text block.

Pattern Book 1: pages loose and tearing at the edges
Pattern Book 2, inside back cover (the book plate is upside-down) : broken sewing, library film and self-adhesive tape yellowing and going brittle with age

Due to the damage and needs of these books being very similar, the same treatment process was carried out on both. As the earliest Minton pattern books, they will receive a lot of attention from readers and need to be robust for handling. It was also desirable for the tape and library film to be removed so that it would not further deteriorate and damage the volume.

Here is a (slightly abbreviated!) walkthrough of the conservation treatment.

Step One

The first step in almost any conservation treatment is surface cleaning. This removes loose dirt that has accumulated on the book over time. To do this, I used a soft goathair brush to brush over each page. I then used a ‘smoke sponge’ –made of vulcanised rubber – to rub over any areas where the dirt was more stubbornly attached to the paper. This must be done gently and circumspectly, so as not to abrade the paper and damage its fibres.

Step Two

Secondly, it was necessary to ‘disbind’ the books: that is, take them apart into their constituent pieces. This may sound a little extreme, but in circumstances where the sewing in a book is broken and many pages detaching, disbinding the book allows it to be put back together in a more robust fashion. To this end, I detached the boards from the text blocks, and then took out the sewing. This meant that each ‘section’ (a folded group of pages, which is then sewn through to make up the text block) was separate from the others.

Pattern Book 2: separating the sections from each other

Step Three

At this point, I focussed on the boards—and in particular the library film that had, at some point in the past, been stuck over the leather. The challenge was to remove this without damaging the leather underneath. In the end, I was able to do this by using a heated spatula to melt the adhesive and, bit by bit, remove the film. With that done, a few areas still felt a little sticky where there was some adhesive left over. I was able to remove this using an organic solvent called toluene—though this procedure had to be carried out very carefully in a fume cupboard, as toluene has some unpleasant toxic qualities! I was then able to use the same process to remove the self-adhesive tape that had been ill-advisedly stuck inside the text blocks in various places.

Removing the library film and tape from Pattern Book 1 with a heated spatula
Removing the library film and tape from Pattern Book 1 with a heated spatula

Step Four

I then carried out the necessary paper repairs. To find out more about how conservators do this, you can visit my last blog post, Repairing Paper. I also ‘infilled’ areas of the paper that had torn away completely, to make sure that the uneven edges would not catch on something and tear further.

Step Five

The next step was to repair the spine folds of the sections, if they were torn or weak. The ‘spine fold’ is the line where the paper is folded in half, through which the book is then sewn. The spine folds need to be robust in order to hold the sewing thread without tearing. As such, I cut strips of thin but strong Nepalese paper (made from the fibres of the mitsumata plant), and adhered these on the outsides of the folds using wheat starch paste—a reversible, conservation-grade adhesive with good ageing properties.

Repairing the spine folds of Pattern Book 1

And with the text block all neat and tidy, it’s time to end Part 1 of this post. Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll discuss resewing and rebacking the books—and of course show you the final results!

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