Rebinding Shakespeare

Aug 1, 2015 | The Publishing Industry

My friend Alejandra gave me a new project to work on last week. I had the challenge of rebinding a copy of Much Ado About Nothing that was published in 1901! This frail little book had the covers falling off and half the signatures falling out, and it was in serious need of TLC.

Granted, I’m not a professional book-binder, but Alejandra simply wanted it to be readable again. Still, I’m really grateful that she gave me the opportunity to practice my skills on such an old manuscript.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any ‘before’ pictures!

The Process

The spine was gone. Not falling off, not beyond repair – just gone. Probably lost somewhere, I would guess. All I had to work with was the text block and the very battered red covers.

The first thing to do was cut the covers off the text block, which was easy enough. Then I had to look at the spine. The book spine, for most case-bound books that I get my hands on, is kettle-sewn and then glued with muslin for extra reinforcement. I prefer to use Coptic stitching instead because it’s stronger and allows the book to be opened flat. (Except for Raynfall Editions. They have to be kettle-stitched because of how they’re bound directly onto the spine.)

So, minus covers, I then looked at the text block. The glue was ancient and crumbling, and the first couple of signatures were falling out. I decided to separate all the signatures and strip off all the glue, and re-sew them back together with new thread.

In retrospect, this wouldn’t be a good idea for a very old book. These signatures were damaged anyway, and they were damaged a little more by being separated. Once I got down to the signatures alone, a number of the bifolia┬áhad large holes from where the thread had been pulled away. The paper in each actual page was fine and sturdy, but at the fold, it tended to crumble.┬áNext time, if the text block is more or less in one piece, I’ll sew the loose signatures back onto the original thread and just replace the glue.

Anyway! With all the signatures separated and in order, I re-sewed them into a new text block. The spine got a layer of PVA glue, and a strip of muslin for strength, and then a strip of parchment paper to protect it. I added parchment endpapers as well. (Sometimes I use card stock, if I think it’s needed, but this book was pretty small and I didn’t want to bulk it up any more than I needed to.)

With the text block ready to go, I looked at the covers. They were very tattered, but the book board was fine, so I could reuse them. I cut away any hanging bits of paper and thread, and cut a new spine out of my own stock of board. Then I measured out everything on a sheet of decorative paper, and glued the boards down with the right spacing. After that, it was just a matter of folding over the edges of the paper, and the new cover was ready to go.

The last thing to do was glue the textblock into the cover, and use my bone folder to smooth out any air bubbles. Then it spent a night in my book press.

The Result

And here we are: the rebound Shakespeare! Alejandra was very happy with it. The book is very solid now, and should provide many more years of reading.