Having recently completed a Master’s degree in Book Conservation at West Dean College, I was incredibly pleased to be offered work at Green’s Books straight away. Originally from Austria, I studied History and Philosophy at University College, Dublin before moving to the UK. During my training, I undertook placements at The National Archives, the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, and the Sussex Conservation Consortium amongst others. In my MA thesis I explored the suitability of fish parchment for use in conservation.
Apart from investigating curious materials, I am particularly keen to explore historic book structures and have been making various models to visualise different techniques that have been used by bookbinders in the past. One of the great benefits of working for an independent book conservator is the variety of projects in the studio. During my first month, I have worked on a range of books from a 1685 ‘Fourth Folio’ of Shakespeare’s works to 1980s fashion magazines published three hundred years later.
While I undertook a range of interventive conservation treatments during my training, the transition from an educational to a working environment has been both challenging and exciting. At college, I was able to spend several weeks or even months working on a single book, whereas independent professional practice requires an awareness of deadlines and ability to prioritise treatments. The way to do this is to “get organised”, as Arthur always says. This means preparing the treatments in advance, so that the available time can be spent on responding to the book’s most pressing needs in an efficient and targeted way. Getting organised means carefully thinking through the proposed treatments and the order in which they are done, and physically setting up the work space to have all necessary tools and materials at hand.
One of my first projects at Green’s Books was a stack of fashion magazines from the 1980s and 1990s where the staples had partially torn through the paper. This project was a great exercise in paper repairs. As there were so many leaves that needed repairing, I had to be systematic with my use of space. Another challenge with these magazines was to repair the spine-folds flat in such a way that the repairs would function well, and look neat when folded back into their three-dimensional shape.
Next, I worked on some mid-20th century cloth case bindings in which the text-blocks had become detached from their cases, these also required a methodical approach. One of the case bindings was particularly damaged: the spine of the case was distorted from water damage and the spine stiffener, which is meant to support the covering material and help keep its shape, was inflexible and warped. I treated the case separately from the text-block by reinforcing the spine area of the case with a piece of toned linen, and replacing the spine stiffener. Similarly to the magazines, the challenge was to repair the case flat but get it to function effectively when back in its three-dimensional shape. I took great care to mould the materials back into their original shape, allowing ease of opening and improved flow.
The perfect contrast to these projects was Mr William Shakespeare’s Comedies Histories and Tragedies (1685) commonly known as the ‘Fourth Folio’, from Gloucester Cathedral Library This book had been re-backed in the last century and the repair had failed, putting the board attachment and spine-folds at risk. After Arthur had worked on the structure by re-lining the spine and creating a strong board attachment, we each sewed a structural endband for additional support. Stitched around a cord rolled in Japanese tissue and resting on a parchment end-of-spine lining, these back-bead endbands made an enormous difference in stabilising the head and tail of the spine and supporting the book as it opens.
Lena Krämer, October 2021