Director, UI Libraries Conservation and Collections Care
This particular treatment was a perfect candidate to test out some momigami, a long-fibered Japanese paper that is coated with konnyaku (a plant mucilage) and crumpled multiple times, giving it a fabric-like texture and strength. To back up a bit, early book repair and restoration treatments usually involved either a complete rebinding or what is known as rebacking: replacing the spine material (usually leather) with new leather and then repositioning the old leather spine piece that contains the titling, onto the newly rebacked spine. Leather work takes practice and skill, but more importantly, it is a naturally acidic material, and book conservators have been utilizing Asian-style papers, like Japanese kozo and Korean hanji for rebacking and mending of leather books since the 1980s.
There are still situations where leather is appropriate, and it’s a thoughtful conversation between curators and conservators, but the flexibility and accessibility of paper make it a great option. In some cases, like this treatment, it allows for more of the original spine to be saved by making small mends or fills rather than removing the entire spine.
This book’s leather covering is very abraded, although it is still structurally stable, giving it a sueded feel. The good thing is that the leather is in stable condition- it’s not suffering from too much desiccation or “red rot.” The spine is almost intact, with just a few areas of loss at the head and tail, a small missing patch over the raised bands, and some loss at the corners.
Using the momigami with its fabric-like nature, I was able to fill areas of loss that mimic the original leather, but the paper also flexes and moves over the joint and around the spine of the book, movement that is needed to open and close it again and again. The momigami provided a strong yet thin bridge between the thick pulp boards and their necessary connection to the spine area as if new ligaments were installed. The paper was also easy to shape when moist with adhesive and can be torn to produce a soft, feathered edge when applying in order to mesh with the original leather.
The paper can also be toned with stable paints, such as acrylics, to soften the interruption between old and new materials. In repairs like this, I try not to hide it completely, but I also want to find a balance for the reader so that it is not a distracting intervention.