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A simple solution?

Jane Rutherston
Head Book Conservator

Figure 1

Figure 1: Book in chemise with front cover off. Photograph by Jane Rutherston (click image for larger version)

A pattern book of the Leeds firm of Potters, Messrs Hartley, Greens & Co. was requested for loan to Sheffield Galleries & Museums Trust for their exhibition 'The Biggest Draw', which opened in September 2004. A V&A catalogue entry describes the book (Museum No. E.576-1941) as containing designs and sketches of domestic pottery on loose sheets pasted into a used account book, and made up of a single section of 108 blue laid paper pages stitched into a millboard cover. The front cover is inscribed in ink: 'Original Drawing Book No 1'. The sketches date from 1778 to 1792.

It is standard practice within the Victoria and Albert Museum to ensure that books going out on loan or exhibition are protected adequately by a box made from archive-quality box board (affectionately known as a 'phase box'). Unfortunately some of the designs in the pattern book had been adhered or folded in such a manner that they extend beyond the book block edges resulting in loss of protection from the cover boards. Placing such an object in a phase box would only result in crushing, with associated damage, of the extending designs and sketches.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Book in chemise viewed from one end, showing fit of cover boards. Photograph by Jane Rutherston (click image for larger version)

The solution was to design a chemise (a loose cover for a book with pockets into which the boards are inserted)1in order to improve the protective function of the cover boards by extending it at the fore-edge.

With limited time it was only possible to investigate materials immediately available to the Book Conservation Studio. Properties such as conservation grade, colour, suitability and flexibility were considered.

The final choices were Aerolinen (an unbleached linen supplied by Samuel Lamont & Sons Ltd, Ballymena, Northern Ireland), a hand-made paper, museum board and domett (a brushed cotton used by textile conservators at the V&A). A mixture of wheat starch paste and EVACON-R™ (a water soluble, non plasticised, pH 7.5 ethylene-vinylacetate copolymer emulsion, supplied by Conservation by Design Ltd) were used as the adhesive - unfortunately attempts to use only wheat starch paste proved unsuccessful.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Diagram of the chemise by Karen Vidler (click image for larger version)

The inner flaps were made to extend almost to the back fold of the book, thus optimising the snugness of fit and minimising movements of the chemise. The strips of museum board were cut to compensate for the differing widths of the upper and lower cover boards in order to provide a flush fore-edge; the weight of board was chosen to obtain the correct depth for the cover boards to fit into. Domett provided a soft surface against the outer surface of the boards but was not used to line the inner flaps as it would have caused too much bulk.

The chemise fulfilled its two objectives of, firstly, providing extra width to the fore-edge in order to protect the extended book block edges from becoming crushed and secondly, it ensured flush board edges, thereby minimising any movement of the book and chemise within its phase box.


Figure 4

Figure 4: The chemise with the book inside. Photography by Jane Rutherston (click image for larger version)


My special thanks to Karen Vidler for her superb diagram illustrating the various layers of the chemise.


1. Roberts, M.T., and Etherington, D., 'Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books', Library of Congress, Washington (1982)