The Art of Bookbinding/Chapter 24

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The Art of Bookbinding by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf
Chapter XXIV.



Washing and Cleaning.

The binder is often called upon to clean books; to many he is a sort of Aladdin, who makes old books into new; the consequence is that he often has placed in his hands a lot of dirty, miserable-looking books, and is expected to turn them into first-class copies. To renovate such books requires time and experience, and unfortunately very little is known among binders as a body about cleaning. Outside the trade, I am sorry to say, even less is known, for if a book be received from a binder bleached, it seems to satisfy the owner, and to be all that is desired. By such treatment of bleaching a quantity of lime is generally left in the paper, the goodness is destroyed, and naturally the paper must suffer in a short time. To test such treatment one has only to apply the tongue to the paper, it will at once absorb any moisture, as blotting paper does, and often the lime can be distinctly tasted.

But books are often washed and given out to the binder to rebind in this state. In such a case it remains with the binder not to associate himself with the book; for if he rebinds such a book the stigma will attach itself to him when the period of rotting, falling to pieces, and other misfortunes has arrived.

It is the practice of many who profess to wash books or prints to use chlorine at every washing; this is not necessary; often a simple bath of hot water, with perhaps the addition of a little alum, is all that is required. An important thing is to know the different kinds of stains when looking through the book; there may be many in one book, each from a different cause. In such a case it will be best to go for the majority, and to use the bath that will move them. Often the one bath is sufficient, but should there be any stains that are not touched, these leaves must be treated again.

When there are stains of different character in the one book, such as oil stains on a few leaves, and, say, coffee stains in other parts, the oil must be first removed; the one bath will not touch both stains.

Often when the bath is used wrongly it will fix the stain in the paper, and not remove it, the chemical used acting as a mordant.

It is impossible for me to describe the various stains, the intelligence of the workman must be brought to bear on the subject; and I advise a small memo, book be used to jot down the difficulties that may occur from time to time, and so to act as a guide for future work; to the use of such a book I am enabled to lay before my readers the methods of working with the various receipts collected in France and Germany, and used by me in my business.

To wash a book it is absolutely necessary to pull it to pieces. Should there be much glue on the back, and difficulty arise in the pulling, the book may be treated as given in Chapter II.: or sections of six or eight sheets may be left together; the hot water and soaking to which the book will be subjected in the washing will dissolve the glue or paste that may be on the back, and the sheets will readily part whilst in the solution. Washing must be conducted with great care; the handling of the wet sheets will demand the most delicate touch, for one can reasonably understand that paper left in water for twelve or more hours is likely to be very tender. In nearly every case when a book has been washed it will be found necessary to size it: the size gives back the body or goodness that the hot water and chemical has extracted. Often the virtue is extracted by damp, through the book being left in some damp situation, or by imperfect sizing the paper has first received; in such cases, although the book may not require washing, sizing will be of benefit.

Requisites.—The necessary articles required for washing, etc., are dishes. Those of porcelain are perhaps the best; they may be bought at any photographic material dealers. If much work is done, it is advantageous to have a set or sets of two or three sizes. In using the various dishes, ample room should be given to allow the hands to enter the water and pick up the sheets or leaves without any danger of tearing. Should the pans be of such a size as to be too heavy to move when full of water, they may be emptied by means of a syphon, the short end of the syphon placed, in preference, at one of the corners of the dish, so as not to touch the sheets. The dishes may also be made of wood, lined with zinc or lead: for very large work these must be used, the porcelain are not made above a certain size.

A kettle for boiling water in.

A gas-stove, or substitute, for heating purposes.

A peel, made of wood, to hang the sheets on the lines. The sheets are placed on the peel, from which they are transferred to the lines.

Chloride of lime for solution of chloride of lime.—Make a saturated solution of chloride of lime by mixing intimately the lime with water in a large jar. When clear the solution may be used. To every gallon of hot water take from this stock solution two or three ounces.

Note.—Chlorine bleaches all vegetable matter.

Hydrochloric acid, also known as muriatic acid or spirits of salts (poison)

Oxalic acid (poison).

Powdered alum.

A hair sieve. This is not absolutely necessary, as a fine piece of linen will answer as well.


(1). 1 quart of water.
  ½ ounce of powdered alum.
  1 ounce of isinglass.
  1 scruple of soap.

Simmer the whole for about one hour, then pass through a fine hair sieve or piece of linen. Use this whilst warm.

(2.) 1 gallon of water.
  ½ lb. of best glue.
  2 ounces of powdered alum.

Simmer and use as above.

(3). 1 quart of water.
  2½ ounces of isinglass.
  2 drachms of alum.

Simmer the whole for about one hour, strain as above.

It must be remembered that a size too strong in glue or isinglass is liable to make the paper too brittle; again, some papers require a stronger size than others.

(4). A size that may be used cold, and is recommended in France, to keep at hand and to use when only a single leaf requires sizing, such as when a name has been erased from a title-page, is as follows:—Boil about a quart of water in a saucepan. Whilst boiling, add about two oz. of shellac and ½ oz. of borax; the borax will dissolve the shellac, which will be held in suspension; the whole must then be passed through a fine hair sieve, or piece of linen, to rid it of all pieces or impurities. This will keep a very long time, and may be used over and over again.

Great care must be exercised that not too much shellac is used, or the paper will be rendered transparent.


Dust.—The careful application of india-rubber or bread will generally take away all dust. In using india-rubber, hold the sheet or leaf down by the left hand, and rub gently away from it. If the rubber is used in a to and fro motion, there is great danger of the sheet doubling back and breaking. The bread may be used in a circular motion; and if a book be cleaned from dust by this means without pulling to pieces, all crumbs mast be brushed away from the back very carefully before closing the book.

Water stains.—If the stains be from water, the application of boiling water and alum will take them out. This stain is the one most usually found in books, it may be distinguished from other stains by leaving a mark having a sharp edge.

To take such a stain away, pull the book to pieces, strew on the bottom of the pan a handful of powdered alum, on this pour a quantity of boiling water. Immerse each section leaf by leaf in the liquid, and allow to remain for some hours. It may be found rather difficult to get the sheets to go under the water; and as one cannot press them under by hand, on account of the heat, make a substitute by wrapping strips of linen on the end of a piece of wood; keep this handy, it will be found very useful; being round at the end, and soft, it does not tear or go through the paper, as will anything sharp.

The alum water will, after a time, become very discoloured; this is only the stain and other dirt extracted from the paper; throw this away by tipping the dish, or by the use of the syphon; add fresh water, either warm or cold, but preferably warm, to dissolve any excess of alum that may have soaked into the paper, and to further clear it. After a time the whole book may be taken out, placed between pressing boards, and excess of water pressed away by the laying press. The sections are then carefully opened, and hung upon lines or cords stretched across the workshop to dry. When dry, should the paper require it, pass the whole book, section by section, or leaf by leaf, through a size, press, and again hang up to dry. When dry, it will be ready for rebinding. It may happen that only a single leaf is stained; do not cut this out as is usually done, but wet a piece of fine string, which lay on the leaf as far in the back as possible; close the book and allow to remain a few minutes; the leaf may then be readily drawn out, the moisture of the string having made the paper soft where it was placed. It may then be cleaned, and when dry and pressed, replaced.

Damp stains may be treated as for water stains, but, as a rule, a book damaged by damp has little or no chance of being made good again. A book so damaged can only be strengthened by re-sizing or some artificial means. To re-size leaves that cannot be plunged into the solution, the sizing may be done with a soft brush. Place the leaf on a piece of glass or marble, and use the brush to the leaf as one would do in pasting; when sized, lift the leaf up very gently and lay it out on paper to dry; when dry, the reverse side is treated in like manner; or a thin paper of a transparent character may be pasted over the pages, either on one or both sides.

Mud.—Luckily a book stained with mud is not of frequent occurrence. Mud seems to be a combination of all that is objectionable, generally it is a mixture of iron and grease. Wash the leaf well in cold water, then in a weak solution of muriatic acid, after which, plunge in a weak solution of chloride of lime. Rinse well, dry, and size. Sometimes it will be necessary to wash the leaf with soap water. Make a soap solution, and gently go over the whole sheet with a soft brush, a shaving brush for instance; this may be done by laying the leaf on a slab of glass: use great care with the brush, or the surface of the paper will be abraised; after which, rinse well with water.

Very often such stains, if fresh, will disappear if a fine jet of water be allowed to play on the parts dirtied, the water being ejected through a fine rose jet.

Fox-marks.—Books so stained may generally be cleaned by immersing the leaves into a weak solution of hydrochloric acid; one must not make the bath too strong, ½ ounce of the acid to 1 pint of water, using the bath hot, will be found about right. Should the marks not give to this treatment, plunge the book, sheet by sheet, into a weak bath of chlorine water. The book may be left in for some hours, taken out and replaced in the hydrochloric bath; after a half hour it may be rinsed with cold water, hung up to dry, and sized.

Finger-marks, commonly called “thumb-marks.”—These are the most difficult to erase, the dirt being generally of a greasy nature, and forced into the fibres of the paper. Make a jelly of white or curd soap, apply to the stain, and leave it on for some time, then wash away gently by means of a soft brush while the leaf is in cold water; this will, as a rule, take all, or nearly all, away. A slight rinsing in very weak acid water, again with cold water, and when dry size.

Blood stains.—The leaves stained must be plunged into cold water; when thoroughly soaked, the stains may be washed with a soft brush charged with soap, then well rinsed with water again. Dry.

If hot water be used, the heat renders the albumen of the blood insoluble, and the stain will be difficult to erase.

Ink stains (writing).—Some inks are more difficult to erase than others. As a rule ink gives way if the writing be treated with a solution of oxalic acid, and afterwards to a weak solution of chloride of lime. It is perhaps better to immerse the whole leaf in the solution, as the lime is likely to bleach and leave a mark; the leaf should in any case be plunged in warm water afterwards, to wash away the lime and acid, and, after drying, it should be sized.

Ink stains (marking ink, silver) may be removed by a solution of tincture of iodine; nitrate of silver, the basis of the ink, is changed into iodide of silver, this is then treated with a solution of cyanide of potassium. It may perhaps be necessary to repeat this two or three times; when quite dissolved out, it must be well washed. As the cyanide is a deadly poison, one may subsitute hyposulphite of sodium.

Fat stains.—(1.) Place a piece of blotting-paper on each side of the stain, apply a hot polishing iron very carefully to the paper; this will, in most cases, melt the fat, which will be absorbed by the blotting-paper.

(2.) Scrape pipe clay, or French chalk, which place on the stain, then use the hot iron. The iron must not be used too hot, or the paper will be scorched; a piece of paper should always be placed between the iron and the leaf stained. The powder may be afterwards brushed away.

(3.) May be removed by washing the leaf with ether, or benzoline, placing a pad of blotting-paper under and over the leaf, dabbing the benzoline or ether on the spot with a piece of cotton wool. This process must not be conducted near a flame, both are highly inflammable.

(4.) A mixture of 1 part nitric acid, 10 parts water, is useful in many instances for oil stains. When erased, plunge the whole sheet or leaf into water, changing the water several times. Dry and size.

Ink.—When the writing-paper has been made from inferior rags bleached with excess of chlorine the best ink becomes discoloured.

Reviving old writings.—(1.) Brush the paper over carefully with a solution of sulpho-cyanide of potassium (1 in 20). Then, while still damp, hold over a dish containing hot muriatic acid; the writing will develop deep red.

(2.) Wash the writing with a very weak solution of hydrochloric acid, then carefully apply infusion of galls.

(3.) For letters that have been in sea water, wash with warm water to remove the salt, then soak in weak solution of gallic acid, about 3 grains to the ounce. If this does not make the writing legible enough, wash thoroughly in clean water, and soak in a solution of protosulphate of iron, 10 grains to the ounce.

To restore writing effaced by chlorine.—(1.) Expose the writing to the vapour of sulphuret of ammonia, or dip it into a solution of the sulphuret.

(2.) Ferro-cyanide of potassium, 5 parts.

Water, 85 parts.

Dissolve and immerse the paper in the fluid, then slightly acidulate the solution with sulphuric acid.

Guitaud discovered that sulphuret of ammonia and prussiate of potash revives writing effaced by oxymuriatic acid.

To restore MSS. faded by time.—A moderately concentrated solution of tannin washed over the paper. The MS. to be carefully dried.

To preserve drawings or manuscripts.—Mix with every 100 parts of collodion 2 parts of sterine. Place the paper in question on a perfectly level and even surface, such as a marble table or large slab of glass. Give the paper a thin coat of this collodion, and in about twenty minutes it will be protected by a transparent, brilliant, and imperishable envelope.

To fix drawings or pencil marks.—Pass the paper through a bath of thin size, made either from gelatine or isinglass; or a bath of skim milk.

To render paper waterproof.—Take of borax 100 parts, water 2,250 parts; boil, and while stirring, gradually add powdered shellac 300 parts. When the whole is dissolved, strain through muslin. This will keep a long time and may be bottled.

To render paper incombustible.—Pass the paper through a strong solution, of alum, and hang up to dry.

The following, taken from the “English Mechanic,” June 19th, 1874, is, I think, of great use to the professional restorer of old books, and will give the binder an idea of what has to be done sometimes:—


“M. Rathelot, an officer of the Paris Law Courts, has succeeded in an ingenious manner in transcribing a number of the registers which were burnt during the Commune. These registers had remained so long in the fire that each of them seemed to have become a homogeneous block, more like a slab of charcoal than anything else; and when an attempt was made to detach a leaf it fell away into powder,

“He first cut off the back of the book; he then steeped the book in water, and afterwards exposed it, all wet as it was, to the heat at the mouth of a warming pipe (calorifère). The water as it evaporated raised the leaves one by one, and they could be separated, but with extraordinary precaution. Each sheet was then deciphered and transcribed. The appearance of the pages was very curious—the writing appeared of a dull black, while the paper was of a lustrous black, something like velvet decorations on a black satin ground, so that the entries were not difficult to decipher.”

Insects.—A library has generally three kinds of enemies to be guarded against, viz.: insects, dampness, and rats or mice.[1]

Everyone is supposed to know how to guard against dampness and rats or mice. Several means are known how to keep insects at a distance. The first consists in the proper choice of woods for the book-case: these are cedar, cypress, mahogany, sandal, or very dry and sound oak. All these are compact or of very strong aroma, and are such as insects do not like to pierce. Another source of danger is the use of chemicals in the binding of books.

The insects that make ravages in books multiply very rapidly, and very few libraries are free from them. The microscopic eggs that are left by the female give birth to a small grub, which pierces the leather boards and book for its nourishment, and to get to the air. These are familiarly called bookworms, but by the scientific world they are known as hypothenermus eruditus which eats the leather, and anobium striatum which bores through the paper. The larvæ of the dermestes also attack wood as well as books.

An instance of how these insects were once managed:—

M. Fabbroni, Director of the Museum of Florence, who possessed a magnificent library, found, after a year's absence, in the wood and furniture, great havoc made by insects, and his books spoilt by the larvæ, so much so that it gave a fair promise of the total destruction of the whole, unless he could find a method to exterminate the pests. He first painted the holes over with wax, but shortly after he found new worms which killed every particle of wood they touched. He plunged the ordinary wood in arsenic and oil, and other portions he anointed once every month with olive oil, in which he had boiled arsenic, until the colour and odour announced that the solution was perfect. The number then diminished. But a similar method could not be employed for books. M. Fabbroni resolved to anoint the back and sides with aquafortis; in an instant the dermestes abandoned their habitation, and wandered to the wood; the oil having evaporized they commenced to develop again, and again began their attacks on the newly bound books. He saw amongst the many spoilt books one remaining intact, and on inquiry found that turpentine had been used in the paste. He then ordered that for the future all paste should be mixed with some such poison. This precaution had the beneficial result.

It is not only in Europe that these worms make such ravages in libraries. In the warmer climes they appear to be even more dangerous. And it is a fact that certain libraries are almost a mass of dust, by the books (and valuable ones) falling to pieces. Nearly all authors on this subject agree that the paste which is used is the first cause, or a great help, to all the waste committed by these dangerous bibliophobes. Then something must be put into the paste which will resist all these insects and keep them at a distance. The most suitable for this is a mineral salt, such as alum or vitriol; vegetable salts, such as potash, dissolve readily in a moist air and make marks or spots in the books. From experience, it is most desirable to banish everything that may encourage worms, and as it is very rare that persons who occupy themselves with books are not in want of paste, for some repairs or other, either to the bindings or to the books, subjoined is a method of preserving the paste and keeping it moist and free from insects.

Alum, as employed by binders, is not an absolute preservative, although it contributes greatly to the preservation of the leather. Resin as used by shoemakers is preferable, and in effect works in the same way; but oil of turpentine has a greater effect. Anything of strong odour, like aniseed, bergamot, mixed perfectly but in small quantities, preserves the paste during an unlimited time.

Or, make the paste with flour, throw in a small quantity of ground sugar and a portion of corrosive sublimate. The sugar makes it pliant and prevents the formation of crust on the top. The sublimate prevents insects and fermentation. This salt does not prevent moisture, but as two or three drops of oil are sufficient to prevent it, all causes of destruction are thus guarded against. This paste exposed to the air hardens without decomposition. If it is kept in an air-tight pot or jar, it will be always ready, without any other preparation.

Books placed in a library should be thoroughly dusted two or three times a year, not only to keep them in all their freshness, but also to prevent any development of insects and to examine for signs of dampness. The interior of a book also asks that care, which unfortunately is neglected very often. After having taken a book from the shelves it should not be opened before ascertaining if the top edge be dusty. If it is a book that has had the edge cut, the dust should be removed with a soft duster, or simply blown off. If it is a book which has uncut edges it should be brushed with rather a hard brush. By this method in opening the volume one need not be afraid that the dirt will enter between the leaves and soil them.

Glue.—The best glue may be known by its paleness, but French glue is now manufactured of inferior quality, made pale by the use of acid, but which on boiling turns almost black. Good glue immersed in water for a day will not dissolve, but swell, while inferior will partly or wholly do so, according to quality.

In preparing glue, a few cakes should be broken into pieces and placed in water for twelve hours, then boiled and turned out into a pan to get cold; when cold, pieces may be cut out and placed in the glue-pot as wanted. This naturally refers to when large quantities are used, but small portions may be boiled in the glue-pot after soaking in water.

Glue loses a great deal of its strength by frequent remelting. It should always be used as hot as possible.

Rice glue or paste.—By mixing rice flour intimately with cold water, and then gently boiling it, a beautifully white and strong paste is made. It dries almost transparent, and is a most useful paste for fine or delicate work.

Paste.—For ordinary purposes paste consists simply of flour made into a thin cream with water and boiled. It then forms a stiffish mass, which may be diluted with water so as to bring it to any required condition. It is sometimes of advantage to add a little common glue to the paste. Where paste is kept for a long time, various ingredients may be added to prevent souring and moulding. A few cloves form perhaps the best preservative for small quantities; on the larger scale carbolic acid may be used; salicylic acid is also a good preservative, a few grains added to the freshly prepared paste will entirely prevent souring and moulding.

Paste is now made on a commercial scale by various Paste Cos., who send it out to all parts. The paste is exceedingly good, and keeps a long time.

Photographs.—A few words respecting the treatment of photographs may not be out of place here.

To remove a photograph from an old or dirty mount, the surplus of the mount should be cut away; it should then be put into a plate of cold water and be allowed to float off, A little warm water will assist in its coming away more easily, but should it not do so, the photograph has probably been mounted with a solution of india-rubber, and in that case, by holding it near the fire, the rubber will soften, and the print may easily be peeled off.

Very hot water is likely to set up a reaction if the prints were not well washed by the photographer when first sent out.

In mounting photographs, white boards should, as a rule, be avoided, because the colour of the boards is more pure than the lights of the photograph, and deaden the effect. A toned or tinted board is more suitable.

They should be damped, and evenly trimmed and pasted all over with thin best glue or starch, and well rubbed down with a piece of clean paper over the print. If any of the glue or starch oozes out from the sides, it should be wiped off with a clean damp sponge. As photographs lose their gloss in mounting, they must be rolled afterwards in order to restore it. A special machine is used for this.

But it may be wished to introduce the silver print without mounting on a board. To do so, and to keep the print straight, paste a very thin paper on the back, stretching the paper well; this will counteract the pulling power albumen has, and the print will, if this be done properly, remain perfectly straight and not curl up.

Albumen.—Desiccated egg-albumen is now well known in the market in the form of powder. Three teaspoonfuls of cold water added to every ½ teaspoonful of powder represents the normal consistency of egg-albumen.[2]

The manufacture of egg-albumen in the neighbourhood of Moscow is carried on in the houses of the country people. The albumen however is generally roughly prepared and of bad appearance, and often spoils. But egg-albumen is also produced on a manufacturing scale in the neighbourhood of Korotscha, the largest establishment there numbering sixty to seventy workwomen, using about eight million eggs yearly, other establishments using less in proportion.

Albumen is also largely manufactured from blood; 5 oxen or 20 sheep or 34 calves are said to yield the same quantity of dry albumen, viz., 2 lbs. In producing blood-albumen for commerce, the objects borne in mind are the attainment of a substance whose solution is free from colour, possesses coagulation, and which is cheap.

To prevent tools, machines, etc., from, rusting.—Boiled linseed oil, if allowed to dry on polished tools, will keep them from rusting; the oil forms a coat over them which excludes contact from air.

Dissolve ½ oz. of camphor in 1 lb. of lard; take off the scum, and mix as much blacklead as will give the mixture an iron colour. All kinds of machinery, iron or steel, if rubbed over with this mixture, and left on for 24 hours, and then rubbed with a linen cloth, will keep clean for months.

To clean silver mountings.—To restore the colour of tarnished silver clasps, etc., boil the goods, either silver or plated, in enough water to cover them. For every pint of water put into it 2 ounces of carbonate of potash and a ¼ lb. of whiting. After boiling them for about a quarter of an hour, clean with a leather, brush, and whiting. They will then look as good as new.

To clean sponges.—Soak the sponge well in diluted muriatic acid for twelve hours. Wash well, then immerse in a solution of hyposulphate of soda to which a few drops of muriatic acid has been added a few moments before. When sufficiently bleached, wash well, and dry in a current of air.

  1. Blades, in his “Enemies of Books,” includes bookbinders.
  2. See Chapter on Finishing—"Albumen."