The conservation of Holinshed’s Chronicles

The book as it was received in to the studio before conservation: with damaging overcast sewing, missing spine covering, loose and damaged leaves and detached boards.


Holinshed’s Chronicles is a 16th Century history of England, Scotland and Ireland; probably best known for its links to William Shakespeare’s history plays, for which it is said to have been a significant resource. It is a large folio of over 1500 pages and this copy was bound between wooden boards covered in calf leather. The book came into my conservation studio in February 2019 and I have been working on it – on and off –  for much of the year.

I want to highlight this project for two main reasons, both of which are frequent occurrences within my work: it required many hours of paper repairs; and the book had been worked on multiple times before I received it. I will expand a little on these two points…

Although this project was large, both in its physical stature but also in the time taken, it was fairly typical in the breakdown of how my time is spent; therefore, it is a fairly representative project. In particular, I spent about half the total time on paper repairs and, of that, much of that was spent repairing the spine-folds of each section (over 120 sections in total). This work was absolutely necessary if the book was to be returned to a strong binding sewn on double cord supports.

The Holinshed was a book that had been ‘repaired’ many times before it arrived in my studio: it had been sewn at least three times, and the boards (which were repurposed) were a later addition. This layered binding history is very common for books that I work on, so again is quite representative of the work I take on.  Most recently – and perhaps most significantly – it had been worked on by a bookbinder who was unable to complete the project. I am not trying to criticise earlier workmanship, but rather highlight the understanding of binding history which is required, and the essential (though sometimes un-glamorous) work that is key to conserving an early printed book successfully. It is also interesting how one manoeuvres around earlier work: when one decides to preserve old repairs, and when to remove them. I shall let you decided what you think of my efforts!

Although it is pleasing to see the book happily back in its boards and with a handsome hand-tooled red leather label (and I hope that you find the images of these parts of the project interesting), it is really my approach, and the work done to repair the leaves and re-sew the text-block that I think are key to the success of the finished project. I haven’t provided a full written account of the project but have relied on the images and captions, as this is intended to be a blog and not an essay, but I hope that the images here arouse some interest and help to illustrate some of my working practice.

Finally, I would like to thank Simon, from Lyppard books, for keeping an open mind and for permission to use images of his book.


Right board before conservation: showing two sets of lacing holes, and worm-eaten corner.


Left board: with old repair approx. 35mm of the spine-edge had been replaced with a roughly finished softwood.


Removing the recent overcast stitching.


Left endleaf collation diagram, and drawing of mismatched re-purposed boards.


After cleaning the sections: with two sets of sewing stations visible.


After many hours of spine-fold repairs.


Re-sewing the book 2-up, on double cord supports.


Board corner infill repair: with parchment support patches.


The boards laced back on, using the old holes where possible, and secured using alum-tawed wedges.


Board attachment: view from the inside with tawed wedges still in place.


Board lacing: viewed from the outside, once the cords and wedges are cut flush.


Text-block with new back-bead endbands, worked over a parchment end-of-spine support; and pack-sewing (supports 2 & 4 remain un-sewn in this image to show the difference).


The text-block with transverse linen spine-linings, and pack-sewing completed.


After conservation: with hand dyed archive calf re-back, blind lines and hand-tooled leather label.


Repaired corner with new leather covering.


Arthur Green, December 2019