Communion Of Dreams

Cold comfort.

Thought I’d share a small discovery I made this weekend.

I’m working on a book conservation project for an institutional client. It’s a patient ledger for a public hospital from the 1880s. It’s a large, heavy account book, and the binding structure had broken down, the original leather-covered covers have a bad case of red rot, and a number of the individual pages had been damaged. All in all, a fairly routine project; an important piece of mundane history, but not particularly interesting from a bookbinding standpoint.

So I took it apart, cleaned and repaired the individual pages, organized the folios back into sections, and set to resewing the book. Here’s the start of that process:

And here it is further along, as I’m sewing the individual sections onto ‘tapes’ as part of the new structure:

As I did this, something caught my eye I hadn’t noticed previously: here and there was the world “cold”.

Now, people don’t usually go to the hospital for a “cold”. Particularly in the 1880s, when hospitals were usually places most people avoided. So I looked a little more closely, and saw that the entries were under the column for where in the hospital patients had been put:

Here’s the top of that page:

Why on Earth would you put someone into a “cold” ward? That didn’t make sense.

Then I noticed something else, further across the page. Here’s a pic of it from a blank page, so as not to inadvertently violate someone’s privacy:

What I thought was “cold” was actually “col’d”, the abbreviation used for “Colored.”

As I’ve said previously, about another historical artifact:

So I understand the importance of preserving the artifacts of that history. And so understanding, felt that it was my responsibility to use the skills I have acquired to that end, no matter how distasteful the task. It was my small tribute to all who resisted, who persevered, who fought.

I’m not equating the two.

But it is important that we not forget either history.


Jim Downey


Obscure, but mildly interesting.

Interesting item I started working on yesterday for one of my clients:


Which led me to do a bit of digging, since I hadn’t been aware that the Indiana Territory had once been the governmental body for the Louisiana Purchase territory. And, in fairness, it wasn’t for very long — the District of Louisiana existed for just about 9 months. On July 4, 1805 things were turned over to the new governmental body of the Louisiana Territory.

Which explains something about the item above: it was printed in observation of the centennial of that change. Here’s the obverse of that page:


So it’s only 110 years old (which I could tell from the binding), not 210 years old. Still a pretty rare item, though — note that there were only 50 copies printed, and I’m sure at least a few have been lost to time. Meaning that it is more rare than the Gutenberg Bible (of which only about 48 copies remain).

Interesting, though obscure, bit of history I thought I would share.


Jim Downey

Preserving something nicer.

Other than the Hitler book, it’s been a while since I shared any pics of my conservation work. So, here’s something a little nicer: the family bible of Missouri’s first Governor, Alexander McNair.

The date on the bible is 1848, and the inscription on the flyleaf is 1851. So this was evidently owned by Governor McNair’s children. This is actually a fairly common pattern you see across the US, where the first generation of settlers on the frontier don’t have these kinds of family artifacts — it’s their children who do.

Anyway, this is how the book came to me:

Cover before

You can’t tell from the image, but the sewing structure was also broken, which meant that the whole book needed to be disassembled, repairs done as needed, and then resewn before remounting into the extant covers, saving the endpapers because they have inscriptions on them.

Here it is after:

Cover after

Cover has been cleaned, redyed, and protective consolidation done on the edges and corners. There’s a new piece of leather (goatskin) providing a new structure to the spine. If you look closely, you’ll see that the spine is wider than it was originally – that’s because in resewing the book, due to the age of the paper, I had to do it in a way which gave it strength and support – but that meant more “swelling” of the spine. It’s a trade-off you have to make: either more fragile, or slightly bigger. Usually in conservation work the choice is for more strength.

Here’s a pic of the inside front cover, showing an inscription on the fly-leaf. If you look closely you can also see a gap along the spine. That’s where the original hinge is broken, and the cover partially detached.

Inside before


This sort of inscription was common during that era, where a husband (or father) would give the book to his wife (or daughter) with wishes that she will study it and live according to it. If you look along the edges, you’ll see damage from handling.

Here’s the inside front cover and fly-leaf after treatment:


Inside after

The flyleaf has been de-acidified, with kozo repairs to the tears along the edge of the page, and then trimmed slightly. Again, it’s hard to see, but there’s a new hinge and the cover has been securely mounted to the resewn text block. The original endpaper has been lifted up, and the new hinge has been inserted under it. This maintains the original appearance as much as possible, but gives the book a secure structure.

And if you like, you can see it in person at the First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site.


Jim Downey