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September 20, 2012

Restoration of Charles W. Wason's "Letters of a Trip Around the World"

Working in a Preservation Department of a university library is a challenging and rewarding job. One of the most enjoyable activities involved with this profession is the conservation of rare and historic bindings. I recently had the opportunity to restore the damaged binding for a unique book with ties to the Cleveland area-Charles W. Wason's "Letters of a Trip Around the World".

Charles Wason, 1854-1918, was born and raised in Cleveland. He moved to New York state to attend Cornell University and returned to Cleveland following his graduation. He eventually became President/director of several electric, telephone and railroad companies. He traveled with his wife around the world and as a result of his travels developed an avid interest in China. With the assistance of Arthur W. Clark, a rare book dealer in Cleveland at the time, he actively collected a vast number of books and journal articles about China which he donated upon his death in 1918 to Cornell University Library, establishing the Cornell East Asia Collection.

Although he donated his incredible collection (9,500 books, 1,200 pamphlets, 550 manuscripts) to Cornell, the Special Collections of Kelvin Smith Library is fortunate to hold a book of his personal letters to his two daughters, hand-written during his trip around the world in 1902-03. These original letters and printed souvenirs were beautifully bound by the Rowfant Club of Cleveland. The book was bound in full green goatskin leather with decorative endsheets and gold tooling. Over the years, the book's leather deteriorated and the covers became detached. A Cleveland couple with an interest in this book funded its repairs through the Adopt-A-Book program of Kelvin Smith Library.

In order to restore the binding, new leather similar to the original was pared down (thinned with a knife) to create hinges for attaching both the front and back covers.

pared leather.jpg
The spine was gently lifted with a special knife at both sides, just barely enough to insert the new leather hinges, which were also attached just beneath the original leather of the front and back covers. The leather hinges were glued with wheat paste, which is made in the department and is easily reversible. Great care was taken not to damage the already fragile original leather when working on the book.

The book's brittle leather spine was very scuffed, flaking and damaged; it was dyed to exactly match the original leather and treated with a leather consolidator. Finally, a custom clam-shell box was created to protect and house the book. The box was lined with Microchamber paper that will help preserve the binding by absorbing the harmful acids inherently present in the leather and paper.

This book can now be safely handled and used by visitors to Special Collections. It was gratifying to work on this wonderful book, and the library is very grateful to the couple who provided the funding to achieve the restoration.

The biography of Charles W. Wason was based on information provided by the Cornell University site-"Historical Journey of the Wason Collection on East Asia"

Information about the restored book "Letters of a Trip around the World" was provided by the Adopt-A-Book donors.

Wason before1.jpeg Book before restoration

Book front cover after2.jpg Book after restoration

Wason before2.jpeg Inside of book before treatment showing detached boards

Wason after open.jpeg Inside of book after treatment

Wason before3.jpeg Spine before treatment showing deteriorated leather

Wason spine after.jpeg Spine after treatment

Wason box4.jpg Custom-made protective box

Wason box open with book.jpg Open custom-made box with book inside

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