Monday, November 26, 2012

Compost This Book

Shown above is the Library Company’s copy of Salomon de Caus’s Institution Harmonique (Frankfort, 1615), alongside  sketchbooks and Secondary Colors bound in limp vellum by Alice Austin.
As a book conservator, I often look at a book with curious eyes. Recently, I was able to study the binding on Salomon de Caus’s Institution Harmonique (Frankfort, 1615).  Bound in contemporary limp vellum, it is very dirty with a hole in the cover and a circular stain. I think the binder used this piece of vellum because it was cost effective; vellum was an expensive material. In this spirit, when binding my books, I used vellum with holes for my sketch book and also for my binding of Secondary Colors, a collaborative project for our local chapter of the Guild of Book Workers. 

The binding on Institution Harmonique is so interestingly worn and dirty that I wanted to imitate that look and feel. I buried my vellum sketch book in my garden compost for five hours in order to soften the vellum and stain the cover. Then I set my coffee cup on it to create a circular stain. What an improvement! My book now has character and feels better in my hands. The text block molds to the cover and the vellum was no longer shiny new. As a finishing touch, I drew on the cover in pen and ink. I continue to be inspired by limp vellum bindings at the Library Company; they are simple, elegant and functional.

Alice Austin
McLean Conservation Department

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