Springback Bindings

Victorian Springback Bindings

Northamptonshire Early Wills Series 1 consists of 28 bound volumes of Tudor and Stuart manuscripts dating from 16th and 17th centuries. The volumes vary considerably in size and weight.

The volumes were bound in the 1870s into Springback bindings, a classic stationery binding of the Victorian period persisting into 20th century.


Half bound in thick brown cloth with parchment spine and corners, all 28 vols are bound in the same style

All but 3 of these handsome Victorian bindings are sturdy, fully functioning and more or less intact (and two of these three are repairable) and although they  appear stylistically inappropriate for the 16th and 17th century manuscripts inside there is a powerful case for keeping the manuscripts in their current bindings:

  • The springback bindings afford sturdy protection to the manuscripts as well as keeping them in order.
  • Each volume is indexed (mostly contemporary Tudor indexes) and foliated appropriately proving that the Victorian binder re-bound the material in the same order in which he found it.
  • The functioning of a Springback is sympathetic in that when opened the spine throws itself upwards, allowing the book to open flat without causing mechanical stresses to the paper manuscript inside – ideal for digitisation and future presentation once paper repairs have been carried out
  • Paper repairs can be carried out in situ without affecting  the bindings
Northampton Archive Early Wills

View through the hollow created by the Springback structure

Volume D, a difficult exception

Volume D. The fore edge of every page was adhered recto and verso with Glassine often extending right across the page

Volume D before conservation

However, it is clear that Volume D may require a more interventive approach. Vol D was repaired so extensively in the 1870s, with Glassine adhered both recto and verso of every single page, often extending right over the text, that the Victorian binder had been forced to sew in thick compensators between each section in order to achieve a bindable book shape

Vol D – note the paper wedges (compensators) at the spine of the book, sewn in between each section to compensate for swelling to the fore-edge caused by Victorian Glassine repairs

If removal of the Glassine repairs could be achieved, this would then require the removal of the compensators. This would, in turn, require the book to be ‘pulled’. i.e. the bindings would be removed from the paper manuscript inside in the exact opposite sequence of their assembly. This is a painstaking and highly interventive operation, considered by book conservators only as a last resort. A clear understanding of book structures and materials is required to avoid causing catastrophic damage during this delicate operation.

Since this operation was inevitable it was decided that a photographic record should be made of the pulling process which may be of use to the conservation/bookbinding community in future, when facing the conservation of springback bindings .

Photographic record of the ‘pulling’ of a Springback Binding

In bookbinding circles there is something of a mystique about the Springback. Only a few rare specialist master-craftsmen could actually produce one now, the rest of us, myself included, would be busy reading and re-reading instructions, consulting colleagues and making models first. As I had occasion to ‘pull’ this example, I thought it might be useful to make a photographic record of the process.


Volume D – the fore-edge swollen with Glassine repairs folded around every page in the volume and adhered verso and recto


The back of the book, the hollow, and a first glimpse at the spine linings. Note the ‘compensators’ – paper wedges sewn in between each section to compensate for the Glassine swell


Endpaper construction


Paste-down lifted in one piece using bone folder.  Note leather strapping structure at head and tail adhered between boards and endpaper


Leather strap at head and tail. Note also ‘lever’ going between split boards structure


‘Lever’ disappearing between split boards


Lever released using craft knife to cut the inner split board around edges of lever


Lever and endpaper construction


Fabric lining eased off to reveal structure of the spine


Sewing supports made of parchment. Leather straps- ‘Clowthing’ -adhered with animal glue between sewing supports


Book turned over to access back board. Lever disappearing between split boards again


Parchment slips, clowthing and lever all adhere between the split boards



Rear endpapers


Book sewn onto parchment sewing supports -‘slips’. Leather straps adhered between parchment supports with animal glue. Both parchment slips and leather ‘clowthing’ extend into the split boards, apart from part of the head and tail straps which were cut and adhered between boards and paste-downs



Removing leather ‘clowthing’ and animal glue with wheat starch poultice



Clowthing removed, animal glue then removed, again with wsp poultice


Linen thread split across parchment sewing supports using scalpel. Parchment slips removed


Gently removing manuscript sections and alternating paper compensators one by one

Further photos of lever and endpaper construction to follow

With grateful thanks to Arthur Green for his advice! See his blog post on Springbacks on The Book and Paper Gathering



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s