Canvas covers protect many oversize ledger bindings in TSLAC’s collection. Like modern paper covers for children’s textbooks, canvas covers were meant to safeguard government records through years of heavy use. Unlike modern paper covers, canvas covers are original to their bindings. They feature leather corners and decorative paper doublures (seen when the book opens) that match the volume.
Today, tattered canvas covers present a conservation conundrum. Is the cover simply a disposable protective layer at the end of its useful life? Or is it an inherent part of the binding that should be preserved? Given the abundance of government ledger bindings, can full treatment be justified and time-efficient?
These questions shaped treatment of the General Index to Court of Criminal Appeals, 1919-1947. Frequent use of this 40 lb+ book had left its canvas cover frayed and torn, with large losses at its edges and all along its spine. An ideal treatment would preserve legibility of labeling on the canvas cover and the exposed book’s spine for the use of reading room staff.
A treatment was designed to retain and stabilize the canvas cover. First, losses were filled with toned muslin. In order to achieve reversibility and prevent adhesive strike-through, heat-set tissue was applied beneath the torn edges of the canvas. Shaped, toned muslin patches were then adhered with PVA to bridge canvas losses.
Repairs to the spine leather were completed with linen-backed toned tissue. Then, the remaining segments of canvas cover were secured to the binding using a modified reback treatment. A reback is a common spine repair method in circulating collections. Since our canvas spine cover was missing, the remaining canvas cover was rebacked to the book’s original spine covering. This involved lifting material in the book’s hinges, adhering the loose canvas on the board’s inner edge with reversible Lascaux, and reattaching the original covering material.
In creating a hybrid structure of canvas cover and original binding, this treatment acknowledges both elements as integral parts of the volume. The treatment is aesthetically tidy, stabilizes the volume for ongoing use, and remains reversible with heat and solvent. The treatment required approximately 10 hours to complete, which is not unrealistic for other, prioritized volumes with similar condition issues.
Future versions of this treatment might revisit the use of heat-set tissue, which may prove to be somewhat too reversible in this application. In place of heat-set, inconspicuous sewing could improve durability while maintaining reversibility and aesthetic compatibility. However, sewing would be complicated by the inability to turn the cover inside out. TSLAC Conservation welcomes thoughts and discussion about this treatment.