Welcome to Part 2 of our historical rebinding of Johnson's Dictionary Improved by Todd, published in Boston in 1828. Last week, at the close of Part 1, our dictionary had been removed from its original decrepit covers, washed, guarded, mended, and reassembled into the neat little textblock pictured above. This week, we finally moved our project from loose leaves back into a bound state, and what a pleasure it is to be back in one piece!
Just as the leaves began to change here in Boston, swashing an already beautiful skyline with a whole new set of colors, our studies at NBSS transitioned from the millimeter bindings of the early 20th century to the full calf bindings of the 18th. Sewn on raised or recessed cords, trimmed in boards, covered with undyed skin and stained with mild acids after covering, the structure was as foreign as it was satisfying to complete. After a few models to get a hang of the processes, I decided to dive into my own collection and rebind a sorry volume of my own from the early 19th century in this style, repeating many of the binding processes that it had first undergone nearly 200 years ago.
I'm currently in hot, slow pursuit of a dairy-related enamel sign screwed to a seemingly decades-unused wooden door in an alley on Boston's North End, less than a block from the North Bennet Street School. While making my way back from yet another attempt at first contact, I spied this familiar title, in a sorry state, through the window of souvenir shop next to The Paul Revere House. A damaged book with a story based in Boston, during my first month in the city for a book restoration program? They say there're no such things as coincidences...
While in DC, a friend put me onto this fascinating volume, the so-called 'Jefferson Bible'; Thomas' own re-interpretation of Jesus' teachings extracted from Greek, Latin, French, and English versions of the New Testament. Jefferson's Bible focuses on Jesus' moral lessons and almost entirely excludes passages regarding divinity or the supernatural, ie the philosophy rather than the dogma. With beautiful red leather boards, edge-gilding, and marbled endsheets, this will be a perfect candidate for a leather reback - reusing all the original elements - once I've settled into my new home in Boston and can retrieve my tools and materials from storage!
Every machine has a story and, in spite of it, deserves to serve its original function diligently until the steel itself turns to dust. Right up to that moment, it's a matter of respect to maintain its mechanics, keep it slicked and clean, give it the chance to do what it was built to do.
Even in the midst of a cross-country move, when I ought to be thinning out my collection for my back's sake, I can't help but be sucked in by book in need. This little volume is not only falling apart but appears to have been put back together incorrectly at some point: The accordion-fold of photos has cracked, yellowing tape across each seam, and based on the orientation of the first page, whoever did this 'restoration' refolded the photos in the opposite direction, causing several to crease and tear over time.
I'm fairly certain I'll be able to clean them up nicely and strengthen the insert from the back with strips of kozo paper. The acidic paper of the booklet may be more difficult to repair, but it's strong enough yet that bringing the book to a handleable state shouldn't be a problem.
In lieu of my latest restoration project (which should be completed in the next few weeks), I can't help but flaunt the newest (and, ironically, the oldest!) addition to my personal library: a second-edition printing of Samuel Johnson's first dictionary of the English language, published in two volumes in 1756. My copy is volume two, 'L-Z'.
It came to me in a very sorry state: most of the original cover is gone, with only the laced-in back board still attached to the textblock, although the sewing itself is in great shape. I also noticed a tiny knot of red and gold silk threads sticking out of spine edge, which might be a clue as to what the original sewn endbands looked like.