Back To Schedule
Thursday, May 30 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
(Book and Paper) Splintered: The History, Structure, and Conservation of American Scaleboard Bindings

Sign up or log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

The study of historical bookbindings can yield important information about traditional craft practices, the development of the book trade, and trends in readership. Quintessentially American scaleboard bindings—which feature thin, planed wooden boards—are of particular interest because so little is known about their origins and usage in colonial America or the extent of their survival in today’s research libraries. This study identified eighty-five early American scaleboard bindings containing imprints from 1686 to 1833. The majority of the examined books were small, with horizontal-grain, ring-porous scaleboards and stabbed bindings. In nine bindings, the boards were identified as ash, a wood that has not been traditionally associated with bookbinding. Although most boards were split or radially cut, others were tangentially cut, suggesting that scaleboard did not have a single source such as the shingle industry. Simple full-leather bindings prevailed until the 1790s; quarter-leather bindings with paper sides dominated thereafter. The study group also included bindings in full canvas, full paper, and full printed paper over quarter-bound boards. The majority of books printed prior to 1760 originated in Boston, while the majority of those printed thereafter were from New York, Philadelphia, and towns scattered across New England. More than 50 percent of the works bound in scaleboard were theological texts or schoolbooks, but the variety in content increased dramatically over the study period. Books in later decades also contained poetry, advice, etiquette, literature, and trade information; sewn binding structures, whether on raised or recessed cords, were more common on these less ephemeral texts. In addition, complex endsheet structures with board linings as well as pastedowns were observed only on sewn bindings between 1781 and 1796. Although the abbreviated binding structures placed the books at risk of textual loss, and the thin wooden boards were susceptible to chipping, splitting, and breakage, most of the examined bindings were intact. Because of their historical value, damaged scaleboard bindings should be preserved through proper housing and careful handling rather than extensive conservation treatment. Working with librarians to identify and document such bindings will spur scholarly research and ensure appropriate care for these unassuming but important books.


Renée Wolcott

Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts

Thursday May 30, 2013 2:00pm - 2:30pm EDT
JW Marriott White River Ballroom E 10 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

Attendees (0)