Wilkes-Barre(bear), PA…not your idea of a fun spot, eh?Mine either.This is a place that did have a thriving economy, but that was when coal was king.It’s located on the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania, and now it is definitely a city struggling to make it.I drove 8 hours up I-81 to spend aweek learning leather book conservation from Don Rash, a seasonedbookbinder, calligrapher and letterpress printer who studied with Fritz and Trudi Eberhardt, two well respected binders.Don owns 3 houses, all adjacent to each other: one is Don’s home, one is his workshop and the third is used for student housing.I have the luxury of coming to Don’s school- The School of Formal Bookbinding-on a slow week-so it’s just me and one other student.
We began the first day by discussing each book we’d brought and how we would approach the repair.I brought nine books from Special Collections dating from the 17th-19th centuries.Immediately. I realized I needed a tool which I didn’t have-a lifting knife.Don had a new one which he sold me.The lifting knife is used to “lift” the old leather spine from the book.Before we tackled lifting spines, we learned to sharpen our leather skiving knife and my new lifting knife on wet Japanese stones while Bill’s numerous cats watched.
First all the books were ganged together in a large “lying press” with wooden boards separating them.We then took each book and lifted the spines of each one-trying to keep the fragile leather in-tact if possible- if not possible, we tried to save the labels.This required running the lifting knife along the outer edges of the spine and gently encouraging it to release itself.Unless you were really lucky, you just ended up with leather crumbs.When most of the leather was removed, we applied a poultice (glop) of corn starch paste and let it sit for 15 minutes.Then, we used a bone folder to get the remaining leather bits off the spine.Finally, we let the spines dry then removed them from the lying press. Tomorrow…paper repairs, sewing and headbands.