Communion Of Dreams

December 18, 2012, 11:19 am
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation | Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is post 1,454 for this blog.

There’s general agreement that the first copies of the Gutenberg Bible were finished in 1454 or 1455.

So I thought I would revisit progress on my conservation work on the 1470/71 text.

Last time, I had finished resewing the book using a ‘conservation chainstitch’. Historically, the book would have been sewn onto cords, but given the way I had to re-join all the pages into sections, I decided to use a sewing structure which is more gentle on the folios. When the time comes to make the leather cover, I’ll position fake cords (the ‘bands’ you see on old leather-bound books).

With the sewing done, first I applied a light coat of adhesive to the spine and then a strip of thin handmade paper.  I ‘shaped’ the spine a bit to have a slight curve and allowed it to dry overnight. The next day I put the book into a ‘finishing press’, with the spine sticking up:


In the finishing press.

In the finishing press.


See how the sides of the press drop away from the book? This allows you to use a ‘backing hammer’ to lightly shape the spine more completely with slight glancing blows, molding the curved shape more completely.  This is done to help accommodate the thickness of the sewing thread in each section, and gives the book that very characteristic rounded-spine shape we’re used to on leather-bound books.

Next, I made some endbands (head & tail bands), using a bit of maroon goatskin shaped over a heavy cord. Sewing on nice head & tail bands would most likely been done historically, but it is a bit time-consuming, and again puts stress on the folios of the book. This sort of added-on endband is common now, and they’re just applied with adhesive so they can be easily removed without damage to the folios if/when the book needs conservation treatment in the future.





The endbands serve a couple of different purposes. One, they provide support for the part of the leather cover which spans the spine from front to rear board. This helps to stop that portion of the leather cover from either being mushed down or stressed too much from people using it to pull a book off a shelf. But it also gives a nice ‘finish’ to the sections, in case there were any slight irregularities in positioning during the sewing.


Endcap, detail.

Endband, detail.


Once the endbands are positioned, I apply a section of light, fairly open-weave cloth which will function as a hinge to help mount the text block to the covers. Then another strip of slightly thicker paper goes on the whole spine, from endband to endband, making a sandwich which will help support everything.


Ready to cover.

Ready to cover.


And poof – the book is now ready for a cover.


Jim Downey




There is truth in this:

The No. 1 question I get at readings is: “How many hours a day do you write?” I used to stumble on this question. I don’t write every day, but when I first started going on book tours I was afraid I’d be revealed as a true fraud if I admitted that. Sometimes I write for 20 minutes. Other times I don’t stop writing for six hours, falling over at the end like an emotional, wrung-out mess, simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. Sometimes I go months without putting a word on the page.

One night, however, I was asked that question and the right answer just popped out, unknown to me before it found solidity on the air: “I write every waking minute,” I said. I meant, of course, that I am always writing in my head.

I’m lucky.

OK, actually I’m very lucky, because I am lucky in many ways. But what I am thinking of right now is that my chosen profession allows me time to think — to write in my head, as it were.

To write in my head as I preserve the words of others. The written words.  Specifically, the *printed* words.

Like this:

Joined sheets.

Joined sheets.


That’s the next step from my last report on the 1470 text. I got all the individual sheets attached, creating “sections” of the book. Or, I should say, re-creating the sections which once were.

Sections "punched" to create sewing stations - where the sewing thread will join them one to the other. And the start of that sewing process.

Sections “punched” to create sewing stations – where the sewing thread will join them one to the other. And the start of that sewing process.


Then moving on, linking not just words, not just pages, but whole passages, whole section, one to the other:

Linking, one to the next.

Linking, one to the next.


What you see there is called a “chain stitch”. A curious term, implying not just links, but connections, even slavery.

Can words be enslaved?

Clean edges. Clean definitions.

Clean edges. Clean definitions.


And this shows — proves — that my technique works. All the sections line up properly.  Almost perfectly.

And so the pages are transformed, from individual pages, into a book.

Like writing.


Jim Downey