From the Library: Rebuilding the Bateman Book (Part 9)

Finishing Bateman


Like all professions, bookbinding has its own specialized vocabulary. What do you think bookbinders mean when they say they are “forwarding” a book? Are they pushing it in front of them? Are they sending to on to another recipient? Not likely.

After a book is sewn together, it needs to be put between boards, and then the boards need to be covered with cloth or leather. Forwarding is this process of boarding and covering a book. Here are the steps that Bateman’s Orchidaceae went through as it was forwarded:

  • Rounding and backing—After sewing, the book needed to “rounded” and “backed.” These are more technical bookbinding terms. “Rounding” is the process of forming the back of the book into an arch, which strengthens the book and helps the back keep its shape. The back is rounded with hands and a hammer as it lies flat on a table.

After rounding, the book was put into a press between backing irons.

Backing irons are special wooden panels topped with slanted, metal surfaces that facilitate the process of “backing,” or using a hammer to knock the edges of the book’s back down about 90 degrees. The boards fit into the space created by this process.

  • Lining—After being shaped, the back of the Bateman book was “lined,” which means that cotton cloth and then paper were glued to its back. Linings stiffen and strengthen the back of the book. The cotton cloth was left extending about an inch beyond the back on either side to form a hinge.
  • Boarding—Boards were next attached to the book using the cotton hinges and the tapes that the sections were sewn on (see previous blog). Book boards are similar to cardboard, but they are made of a higher quality paper pulp that is less acidic.
  • Covering—Books can be covered with many different kinds of materials. In the past, leather and parchment were often used. At the beginning of the 19th century, a material known as buckram became a common covering material. Buckram was developed around 1825 by a bookbinder named Archibald Leighton, who took mass-produced cotton cloth and stiffened it with a starch size, making an affordable alternative to animal skins. Today, buckram is generally made with a synthetic size. We decided to cover Bateman with a buckram cloth rather than leather because cloth tends to be stronger and more durable than leather. The cloth was folded around the book and glued down; then the edges of the cloth were folded around the boards, glued and trimmed; and finally, a piece of paper called a “pastedown” was adhered on top of the cloth edges.


We weren’t quite done. After our book was rounded, backed, boarded and covered, it still had to be “finished,” our last technical term. In bookbinding, “finishing” is the process of decorating and labeling a book.

We weren’t interested in adding any elaborate decoration to Bateman’s binding, since most users would be more interested in what was on the inside, not the outside, of the book; but we did want to add labels with the title and author’s name.

We made labels by first cutting rectangles of thin, black goat leather and gluing them on the spine.

To add simple decoration and words to the leather labels we used traditional tools and materials—gold leaf, typeholders and palettes.

Typeholders do exactly what their name suggests—they hold the brass letters that spell out the title and author. Typeholders are set in wooden handles for use. Palettes are pieces of brass or bronze that leave impressions of lines or other decoration. They are set in wooden handles also.

All of these tools were first heated up on a hot plate. Then we used them to pick up several layers of gold leaf and pushed them onto the leather labels, leaving gold behind in the form of letters, lines or decoration. Excess gold was cleaned off.

Bateman is Done!

After finishing (hard as it is to believe), the long process of conserving and restoring Bateman’s Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala was done.

This treatment has been time consuming but necessary to preserve this rare and important work for future users. It will now be put in environmentally-controlled storage and when next taken out for scholars to use, it will be safe to handle.

Come see Bateman’s Orchidaceae for yourself at the Garden’s Science Open House at the Bayer Center on Saturday, March 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

See you there!

Learn more about the restoration of the Bateman book:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |Part 4 |Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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