From the Library: Rebuilding the Bateman Book (Part 6)

Conservation work on the Peter H. Raven Library’s copy of The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala is underwayhas! Follow along as we document this painstaking restoration of one of the largest and grandest volumes in the Garden’s rare book collection.

Putting Bateman Back Together

Now that the leaves of Bateman’s Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala have been cleaned and mended, it is finally time to consider how to put it all back together.

Saving Evidence

As a rule, conservators try to minimize the changes that they make to artifacts in the process of stabilizing them. Even when conservators decide that they have to make changes to an object for its own good, they understand that some historical evidence is irretrievably lost in the process. Paper, for example, is sometimes washed to neutralize acids and other harmful chemicals, but in the process, evidence of the paper’s original manufacture is lost, much to the chagrin of paper historians. Before they do anything that will permanently change an object, conservators think long and hard and consider all the options.

Book conservators sometimes decide after due reflection that they have to change a book’s binding structure during treatment. A book, after all, doesn’t just sit on a wall; it has moving parts that need to work, and if the original binding structure didn’t work very well and even caused harm to paper, then it may need to be replaced.

Bateman’s Orchidaceae is just such a book.

What’s Wrong with Bateman’s Binding?

Problem #1—The original binding structure of our Bateman had an interesting feature: The lithographic illustrations were bound into the text with cloth hinges mounted on what are called guards or stubs. This was often done when paper was particularly thick and wouldn’t be able to bend well. On the left is example of a 19th century book of photographs on guards and on the right you can see a similar structure in our Bateman.

The cloth hinges in our book were made of linen, which doesn’t have much fold strength. Almost all of these hinges had partially split. The guards were made of thin acidic paper and were also damaged.

Our book needs new hinges and guards.

Problem #2—Traditional Western binding techniques create books that are functional and long-lived. The traditional method involves folding sheets into sections and sewing through the folds, allowing the textblock to open without stressing the paper.

Compare this with a modern paperback made up of single sheets that are glued together on the spine. These bindings often break.


Bateman’s Orchiaceae contained no folds to sew through. It was essentially a giant paperback book made up of single sheets that depended primarily on glue to hold them together, which explains why the leaves were coming loose.

This large book needs a more robust, traditional-style binding if it is to be functional, a structure sewn through folds.

How Should We Fix These Problems?

Problem #1—The cloth hinge and guard worked well with the heavy lithograph paper, so we decided to retain these elements, but we would use better materials. We replaced the linen hinge with a cotton hinge because cotton has greater fold strength. A strip of cotton was attached to the edge of each lithograph using wheat paste, trimmed and then glued to a new folded guard made of a sturdy acid-free paper. Here you see the guard being slipped over the cotton hinge and then glued into place. Since it is wet with glue it is a bit warped. It flattens out when dry.

A guide was used when gluing on the guards so that each lithograph/guard combo would be the same width and match the width of the text leaves.

Problem #2—We wanted to change the binding structure from one dependent on glue like a paperback to one dependent on sewing like a traditional Western book. In order to have this more traditional, functional structure we needed to create folds and make sections.

Choosing the leaves to form each section was easy. Each lithograph had a cover sheet and was followed by a text leaf that described the plant. These groups of 3 leaves would make up our sections.

To create folds, we joined each cover sheet to the relevant text leaf using strips of strong Korean paper made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry. These 2 leaves were then folded around the lithograph with its new sturdy paper guard. When we finally get around to sewing, we will sew through the folded guard and the Korean paper. In the last image below you see the completed section.

This diagram illustrates the changes we made to Bateman’s binding structure.

Like everything else we are doing with Bateman, this process will take some time, but here you see the sections as they pile up. Note all of the new folds!

Learn more about the restoration of the Bateman book:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |Part 4 |Part 5

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