Hi everyone, Minton project conservator Jess here! Last time I was on the blog, I introduced myself and the conservation work I’m carrying out this year on some chosen items from The Minton Archive. In that post, I also mentioned springback bindings – and this time, I want to tell you a little more about this incredibly popular bookbinding structure that can be found in abundance in many archives and collections, especially here in the UK.
Springback bindings are an English invention, patented in 1799 by two bookbinders, John and Joseph Williamson. The structure soon took off in popularity, and enjoyed its heyday in the latter half of the 19th Century and the early 20th Century. It was used especially for ‘stationery bindings’ – that is, books made with blank pages for people to write in. The reason becomes clear when we look at the features of the springback.
The first part of making a springback binding is similar to how other books are made: paper is folded into ‘sections’, and then sewn together to make a text block. But it is the mechanism by which the text block is attached to the boards that sets the springback apart. Unlike in other books, the springback has cardboard ‘levers’ at the front and back, which slot into the book’s thick boards. In addition, the binding has a hard, C shaped spine-piece which fits snugly around the text block and is attached by strong linen to the levers. This spine-piece is called the ‘spring’ and is where the binding gets its name, along with how the book behaves when it is opened. For the lever-and-spring structure has the effect that, when the book is opened, the levers pull the text block up and away from the hard spine-piece, so that the pages ‘spring’ upwards and open flat.
The flat opening of the springback was what made it so popular for stationery bindings, because it meant the books were very easy to write in. The thick boards and thick leather that was used to cover the spine and joints also make the structure very robust—another point in its favour. The springback was therefore used for account books, ledgers, and blank books of all kinds. Many variations on the structure can be found—some that make it even stronger and more durable (but more expensive!), some that make it cheaper (but inevitably more flimsy), and even some that make its contents more secure.
The Minton archive contains many springback bindings, which the company workers obviously found useful as the structure allowed them to open the books flat to draw in patterns, add notes and annotations, and consult the existing designs. Many of the books are very worn and well-used—especially the ‘works copies’ of the pattern books, the ones that were used on the factory floor—which goes to show how crucial they were to the workings of the Minton company. Robust as springbacks are, however, every structure has its weaknesses, and after so much heavy usage in the factory it is only inevitable that some of the Minton springbacks are no longer ship-shape!
Often the first part of a springback to succumb is the spring itself, which, because of the work it has to do in levering the boards open, tends to ‘pop’ off the book after a lot of use. Quite a few of the works copies of the Minton pattern books are now spring-less for this reason. However, these books’ survival is amazing when you consider how much they were used, and despite some missing springs, we have the strength of the springback structure to thank for the fact the books are still around to be studied and enjoyed.
If you’d like to learn more about the springback, including more technical details, the following links contain more information:
Arthur Green, ‘Some Forwarding Techniques for Springback Bindings’, The Book and Paper Gathering (Oct 2013)
Peter Verheyen, ‘Springback (Account) Book Binding: The English Tradition’, Book Arts Web (2004)
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: