The conservation treatment of a folio manuscript book: James Van Cleve, Reminiscences of early sailing vessels and steamboats on Lake Ontario, manuscript book, 1877.

This large folio volume was compiled by a ship’s captain, James Van Cleve, in the 1870s. Entirely hand-written by Van Cleve, it includes his charming watercolor drawings of ships and harbors on the Great Lakes. The volume documents the change from sail to propeller power among merchant vessels during the mid to late 19th century. There are two other variant copies of this manuscript book. This copy is in the collection of the Buffalo History Museum.


This volume was so badly damaged that it could not be handled without further damage. The half leather binding was in poor condition, with the spine missing, loose boards, cloth inner hinges broken, dented corners, edge wear, and broken sewing on vellum tapes. The leather ws flaking and degraded. There were a variety of documents attached to the leaves, with other documents loosely inserted. There was extensive damage to the leaves, especially the first and last leaves, including tears, losses, creases, and pressure sensitive tape. There was staining in many places from a variety of causes, primarily adhesives and adjacent documents. The leaves and binding were extremely soiled.

The goal of this conservation treatment was to stabilize the leaves and inserted documents, improve their appearance as possible, and rebind the volume utilizing surviving parts of the original book.


The volume was collated. The boards and leaves were dry cleaned. The original leather could not be saved, and was removed, saving as much of the gold tooling as possible. The board edges and corners were reinforced with wheat starch paste, and missing areas of leather were filled with heavyweight kozo paper colored with acrylic pigments.


The volume was disbound into the original sections composed of 5-12 loose sheets whipstitched together. The pressure-sensitive and glassine tapes were removed using a heated spatula and a poultice of cellulose powder and acetone. The stains were lessened in places using swabs damp with water or solvents, although in certain areas the reduction in staining was only minor. The leaves were extensively mended using a variety of weights of kozo paper using wheat starch paste. Where iron gall ink was present, the sheets were mended using remoistenable tissue.


New inner hinges were created with airplane cotton lined with black colored kozo paper. The sections and new hinges were whipstitched onto four linen tapes. There are new stuck-on headbands. The spine was lined three times with handmade paper and the linings sanded smooth. There is an extended lining of heavyweight kozo paper, applied with wheat starch paste and adhered to the boards on the outside.


The volume was rebacked with archival calfskin colored with leather dyes to match the original leather. Color touch-ups were done with acrylic pigments. The new leather was polished to match the original.








Limited Editions

Cambridge MA 02140 USA 617-304-2652 james@reid-cunningham.com