Crossing the Bench: 1808 The Thomson Bible.


We recently had the pleasure of restoring this set of The Thomson Bible, 1808, generally known as 'Thomson's Bible'; the earliest translation of the Septuagint into English, and only 1,000 copies printed.  Charles Thomson was Secretary to Congress from 1774 to 1789; when he retired he devoted himself to Biblical Study. 

J. F. Watson in his Anals of Philadelphia. . . (1844, vol. i. pp. 568-9) says of Thomson:  'He told me that he was first induced to study Greek from having bought a part of the Septuagint at an auction in this city.  He had bought it for mere trifle, and without knowing what it was, save that the crier said it was outlandish letters.  When he had mastered it enough to understand it, his anxiety became great to see the whole; but he could find no copy.  Strange to tell, in the interval of two years, passing the same store, and chancing to look in, he then saw the remainder actually crying off for a few pence, and he bought it.  I used to tell him that the translation which he afterwards made should have had these facts set at the front of the work as a preface; for that great work, the first the kind in the English language, strangely enough, was ushered into the world without any preface.' 

This copy has amazing provinance as it is  signed by Charles Thomson himself, and it was also printed and bound by Jane Aitken, daughter of Robert Aitken.  Robert Aitken was the first to print the KJV Bible in/for the US; Aitken's Bible was used by the Continental Army.


We restored the leather and rebacked three of the four volumes.  The fun part about this restoration was recreating the new spines to match the original bindings so well that one can not tell what books were rebacked.  Can you tell?  


More fun information about The Thomson Bible from the Library of Congress Information Bulletin, Vol. 34, No. 46.  November 14, 1975.

The Bible on which the Librarian of Congress took the oath of office has both Library and Bicentennial associations.  The Thomson Bible, as it is known, was once in the Library of Thomas Jefferson and came to the Library of Congress when his library was purchased in 1815; it still bears the 1815 bookplate of the Library of Congress.
Charles Thomson was the secretary of  the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789; probably no other man had such an opportunity to watch the continuing drama of the Revolution and the development of the nation.  One of his last acts was to notify George Washington of his election to the Presidency of the New Federal government.  After his resignation in 1789 he spent the next 20 years making and English translation of the Septuagint (according to bibliographers his is the first English translation of the pre-Christian Greek version of the Old Testament) and of the New Testament (the first English translation in the western hemisphere).  It was published in Philadelphia in 1808 as The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Covenant, commonly called the Old and New Testament.  The printer was Jane Aitken, who was carrying on the printing business of her father, Robert Aitken, famous in his turn as the printer of the Aitken Bible or the Bible of the Revolution, on which L. Quincy Mumford took the oath of office in 1954.
In January 1808, Thomas Jefferson saw an advertisement for the work and wrote to Thomson asking to be entered as a subscriber.  The four octavo volumes sent to Jefferson are now in the custody of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.  Jefferson initialled each volume at signatures I and T, the secret way in which he identified most of the books in his library; three of the volumes still have the original sheep, red and blue morocco labels on the back, and "C. Thomson" lettered in gold. 


Crossing the Bench: 1617 KJV Bible Historical Rebind.


We had the pleasure of restoring and rebinding this Holy Bible (KJV) from 1617, and it was such a fun project, and somewhat of a milestone as this was the first time I made brass corner bosses.  

I'm not usually a huge fan of books with corner bosses because of the thin brass used. I decided to use a thicker brass stock for my corner bosses, as I feel the hardware on large books should be proportional to the thicker boards and text blocks. I'm happy I made the decision to use a thicker brass stock, because the hardware looks fantastic! 

I treated the leather, dyed it, cosmetically aged it, and tooled the boards in both blind and gold tooling. I hand cut the brass for the claps and corner bosses, and engraved period appropriate designs in the metal. I embroidered a single bead end bands for the text block using lovely linen thread. All of this during huge storms, multiple tornadoes, and a two day blackout. 

Below are a few photos showing the process and finished binding.  


Crossing the Bench: Queen Anne's Bible & Book of Common Prayer, 1709.


We recently had the pleasure of conserving a set of books that once belonged to Queen Anne; she was queen from 1702-1714. She was the last of the Stuarts, the Scottish royal lineage. She had 17 pregnancies with no surviving children of those 17 pregnancies. Only five children were not stillborn, and of those five, four died before the age of two, and her oldest surviving son died at the age of 11. It has been said she may have had lupus, and in her later years of life she became depressed and extremely obese and suffered from gout. Talk about a hard life of pain and sadness! 


This set of books is a Book of Common Prayer, the Old Testament, and the New Testament from 1709. Our client requested we conserve these books, with very little restoration. (Conservation aims to stop any current deterioration of the book, as well as limit further damage. Restoration aims to bringing the book back to its original state and strength as far as archival methods will allow.) We stabilized the bindings, reattached one of the covers, reinforced the hinges, and finished with light leather restoration. We then built a presentation enclosure with a sturdy hard-covered chemise. The cover of the enclosure is tooled to resemble the bindings, with a lovely painting of Queen Anne recessed on the front cover. 


We loved preserving these special books, and now they'll last many years to come. 

Crossing the Bench: Historical Rebind of a 1562 Geneva (first folio edition).


This restoration commission was a fun and rewarding one.  This book was obviously in bad shape, and as we always say, when a binding is shot the text block isn't far behind.  

We carefully disbound the book, collated, flattened, and resewed the text block.  We added a facsimile title page, hand-embroidered end bands, bound the book in hand-dyed calf leather, tooled the leather in a historical design, and finished by cosmetically ageing the binding. This project required extensive paper conservation and so the total project took just under 40 hours.


We're so happy for the opportunity we had in preserving this special book. 


Bindery Talks: End Bands and all the Right Answers About Books.


If anyone has worked in the world of bookbinding and book collecting for longer than say, six months, they could probably tell you it's kind of a hard world to break into. So often, when speaking to book collectors and other book binders, the subject comes up of how unhelpful the people in this world can be. I've had three of those conversations in as many weeks with perfect strangers.  It's like there is an unspoken initiation one has to go through to be accepted in to the belly of of the beast known as rare books.  (I still don't know what this initiation is; if anyone does, please let me know!)

It also seems like every bookbinder you talk to has all of the right answers, and through the years I've stayed quiet because many of the authors of "all the right answers" aren't willing to discuss another possible method of binding or restoration.  If I'm being completely honest, In my experience I've often found those right answers to be both wrong and right, and here's why: There isn't one set rule or answer that can solve all the possible issues one old tattered book may have. And unless you're a fortunate enough conservator to have worked on many books from every single time period, binding style, and country of origin of The Book, you're not going to have all the answers either. Wouldn't it be better if we all brushed the chips off our shoulders and worked together to build a network of tried and true knowledge and experience?

As a case in point; about end bands: I've seen it written and discussed that one should never ever never resew end bands on a rare book, as it will cause more damage to the already stressed text block.  While the idea is something to consider, that notion is completely untrue. In fact the minimally invasive nature of the sewing can be far outweighed by the additional strength to the structure some styles of end bands can provide.  The sewn end band strengthens the structure of the text block by holding together the unsewn ends of the signatures that lie beyond the kettle stitches. Even more strength is provided when the core of the end band is laced into the boards.  An end band that is sturdier than one merely pasted on also provides support for the end caps; one of the weakest parts of the binding.  

Many binders are comfortable with stuck on end bands (even in the old days), and often times those stuck on end bands are hand embroidered and quite beautiful.  However, they cannot add strength, merely being pasted on.  In fact, in my examination of old bindings I have found that they often create a weak spot which is usually the first area to break down in a binding. In my opinion stuck on end bands should be used when the original valuable binding had them and the restoration calls for complete period accuracy, but they should not be a fall back in an effort to simplify or speed up the binding process.

Tips on how to minimize and ameliorate the damage to the paper caused by sewing end bands: First, sew through the already extant kettle stitch holes if at all possible.  This is the best way to proceed, because absolutely no further damage is caused. If the condition of the page is less than can be desired for sewing end bands, a medium weight guard on the folds of the signatures will provide not only support for the pages, but also sufficient support for sewing the end bands.  if you have a book that is so tattered that there isn't enough paper to support an end band, go the extra mile to build up the pages by guarding and filling in the lacunae.

As a book binder, conservator, and craftsman who is constantly refining my craft, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking I have all the right answers.  It seems strange, but book binding can be very competitive.  I've found it's better to keep an open mind, constantly gather knowledge from those who bound before us, and those who are working in the field now, and focus on the specific needs of the specific book in front of me.      

Book History: Wraps Before Publisher Bindings.


Before publishers bound their publications, printers would do a simple preliminary stitch keeping the signatures together, and then cover the text block in wraps.  When someone purchased a book from the printer they'd take it to their book binder to properly sew the text block and cover it, if they could afford to do so. Most books printed but not bound didn't last; it's special to find a rare book with its original wrappers nowadays.

This is an example of a printed pamphlet from 1835 that would have had wraps; instead of binding the pamphlet my client decided to have me make and add period appropriate wraps in keeping with the history of this little book. I then made a protective clamshell to house this special book.

Collect. Conserve. Restore. Become part of the history.