Conserving a botany book through BeFriend a Book

The conservation of Elizabeth Twining’s Illustrations of the Natural Orders of Plants, 1868  sponsored by Professor Michael Slater in memory of his friend, John Grigg has now been completed. The two volume set  was bound using caoutchouc, a natural rubber, also known as gutta percha.  An earlier blog explained how readily this adhesive breaks down and the problems these bindings pose for conservation. The quarter leather case of the binding was sound but the single leaves of the text block broke away every time the book was opened.

The conservator, Alex Bruce began by removing the old caoutchouc from each leaf.

Although brittle, the residue still needed to be carefully scraped off.

The spine is shown above with most of the caoutchouc removed.

Narrow Japanese paper guards were pasted onto each leaf, projecting a few millimetres beyond the page. They were cut slightly short of the head and tail so that they did not show on the gilt edge.

Pasting each guard down
Close up of guards
Rubbing down each guard


The single leaves were gathered together retaining the original rounded spine and put in a press. Care had to be taken to ensure the leaves lined up with each other and that the text block would fit back into its case. The guard extensions were pasted individually and smoothed down on the spine with a Teflon folder.


Head cap
​The repaired head cap
Pared and toned leather head cap repair

Once the text block was re-assembled the conservator checked that it would fit the case. The spine was then lined with a thin, strong cloth that was wider than the spine.


Before conservation
Spine after conservation
The cloth spine lining extensions and an endpaper repair strip were pasted onto the boards under the lifted end leaves to re-attach the text block to the case binding.

The two volumes after conservation, with the bookplate in memory of John Grigg, 1937-2013, a passionate Linnean, and a lover of books and the natural world.