Conservation work on the Peter H. Raven Library’s copy of The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala has begun! Follow along as we document this painstaking restoration of one of the largest and grandest volumes in the Garden’s rare book collection.
James Bateman, a wealthy English orchid collector, was responsible for the creation of The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, the subject of a unique exhibition currently on display at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Bateman wrote the text and commissioned the illustrations for the book, most of which depicted orchids that had never bloomed in cultivation in England before. The text included complete scientific descriptions in Latin and English and was noteworthy in that it provided practical information for orchid cultivation and included eleven species new to science. The illustrations were executed using a relatively new technology, lithography, and were largely drawn from life; either from plants in Bateman’s own greenhouses or those of friends. The book’s unusual size (about 30” x 22”), would seem to be an expression of Bateman’s enthusiasm for his subject.
The Library’s copy of this rare book is in poor condition. The paper is dirty and ripped, pages are loose, and the binding is failing.
Before we can even begin the processes of cleaning, mending and rebinding, we must first examine the condition of the book and make a record of what we find using images and written descriptions.
For the written descriptions, we are using the same standardized form that we use for all book treatments in the conservation lab at the Peter H Raven Library.
We then take pictures of the book, making sure we have a visual record of anything that may be of interest to future researchers or conservators. A conservator may, for example, need to replace covers or change the binding structure of a book in the course of treatment, so it is important that we keep a record of the original covers or the original binding structure before they are changed.
Examination of the Orchidaceae revealed several interesting features. First, there was evidence of earlier repairs. Someone named Jean Meyer had mended the book in 1952, probably fixing broken hinges in the front and back of the book by gluing new sheets of white paper across the hinges.
Other evidence of possible earlier repairs included a brown paper strip pasted to the gutter edge of the decorative fly leaf at the front of the book. Clearly, the binding had some problems keeping itself together.
Second, it became apparent that the Orchidaceae had been rebound at least once, evidence that the original binding hadn’t functioned well either.
Why do we think this book was rebound? First, the covers are made out of Masonite, which was patented in 1926, much later than the dates for the Orchidaceae’s publication, 1837-1843. Second, when we looked at the spine of the book, we could see that part of the original binding structure had been cut off, presumably when the original 19th-century covers were removed.
In these pictures, you can see the spine of the book. The pages had been sewn on linen cords which would have originally extended beyond the spine to attach the covers, but you can see they have been cut.
Bateman’s Orchidaceae is a large, heavy book that needs a correspondingly robust binding structure in order to function. In the case of our copy, two bindings have already failed to hold together. This means we need to create a new, better binding structure for this book and we can consider replacing the existing covers since they are not original and didn’t perform well.
NEXT, we will begin the process of disbinding and paper cleaning.