When we think of book restoration, what first comes to mind most often is to return the book as closely possible to its original appearance and functionality. As we discussed in this November 2015 blog post, the work often includes paper repair, resewing, reattaching loose boards, and/or filling in missing material. The job is deemed successful to the extent that the completed book once again is structurally secure and able to be handled safely, and the repairs are discrete—not immediately apparent.
But another definition of ‘book restoration’ may be to return a damaged book to a thing of beauty. Just not the beauty of its original creation. Inspired by the Japanese art of ceramic repair called kintsugi, the repairs are highlighted rather than hidden. Kintsugi uses lacquer (or now, a polymer adhesive) dusted with precious metal powder, most often gold, to mend the broken piece. The resulting gold veins create a pattern of great beauty by acknowledging the repair rather than hiding it.
This copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol came to the shop with the leather on the boards disfigured by a water stain. The 20th century English binding was otherwise sound. The only damage was aesthetic. The first thought might have been to recolor the leather to cover or remove the stain. This, though, presents a couple of problems. While still reasonably sound, the leather was aged enough that it would not hold up to any wet process such as re-dying. Wetting such leather would likely cause it to ‘burn’ or blacken. An alcohol dye would also likely cause a similar problem. And then leather dyes are not opaque, but translucent, so applying additional dye would not have fully obscured the stain. The other possibility would be to apply an opaque pigment finish that might better cover over the stain. Still there is the problem of wetting the leather. And then, an opaque color is essentially a paint. The characteristic look of leather would be lost, replaced by what would then appear to be imitation leather rather than the real deal.
So, since an attempt to return the book to original appearance was likely to be of only middling success, we decided to create an appropriately festive design using thin onlays of colored leather to cover the damaged areas on both front and rear boards. The chosen design uses light green, dark green and red leathers to suggest hanging banners in traditional Christmas colors. Three gilt circles on each banner suggest hanging ornaments. The result is that the book once again presents an attractive appearance, preserving the original full gilt spine, creating a marriage of old and new design.