Cloth began to be used as a covering material in the early 19th century. Mechanization of the printing press greatly increased the number of books being produced and published, creating a need for a readily available, less expensive alternative to leather. While binding remained a hand process until decades later, cloth allowed a simplified binding structure to be used, increasing the binder’s output while also lowering the cost of materials. The early cloth is exceedingly thin and is now exceedingly brittle and fragile.
In our sample of a cloth book restoration shown here, a first American edition of Travels in Central America, in addition to the usual wear and deterioration, there is self-adhesive tape to be removed. The covers, or boards, and spine are removed from the text, and the spine of the text is cleaned. If any paper repair needs to be done, this is the time to do it. If the sewing has broken and the pages are falling loose, the entire book many need to be resewn. New hinges, matching the endpapers, are sewn to the text block to serve as the attachment to the case. New spine lining is applied to secure the pages. Now attention turns to the case, or covers. The cloth on the outside and the endpapers on the inside are both lifted along the spine edge of the boards. New cloth is toned to match the color of the existing cloth and then laid in position under the lifted cloth, remaking the case. The book and its case, now repaired, are joined together, laying the new hinges under the lifted endpaper. The lifted material is laid back down and the old spine is laid over the new. The frayed corners of the boards are consolidated and recovered, if necessary. Finally, the color of all the repairs is touched-up to better blend with the original. The book is now ready to be enjoyed once again and looks in near-original condition.