Close up of reattached endband with obvious new thread additions
Behind the scenes Collection Care Collections Long read

Endband On The Run

A blog about endbands, their function, and how French MS 62 managed to almost lose them twice by our Senior Conservator Mark Furness.

Endbands; you may know them as headbands, or just that odd little bit of colourful sewing on the top of the spine; you might not even think about them at all. Not all books have them, or have to have them: some have false ones, and quite a lot once had them but have since lost them. In this instance, French Ms 62 had them and almost lost them… twice.

A more precise definition of an endband from the Ligatus Language of Bindings is this:

Components which are found at the head and tail of the spine of a bookblock, which are either sewn with thread or thongs to the head and/or tail edges of the spine of a bookblock (sewn endbands) or attached by adhesive only (stuck-on endbands).

Originally endbands were an important structural element of a book: they consolidated the head and tail (top and bottom) of the book sections together; the connection could extend to the book boards and strengthen the connection; and in some styles they were sewn through the covering material in very neat and handsome fashions.

As binding practices developed over the years, time-saving methods and style were favoured over structure and stability. Endbands became more decorative, and where once they were tied-down and anchored to each section, some would barely have three points of attachment to the book (the middle and each end).

So when French Ms 62’s tail endband became detached, and it was brought to Collection Care. It was not an uncommon ailment and we agreed to sort it out, however there were a few… minor complications.

Firstly, the manucript’s size: measuring about 435mm x 333mm x 155mm with a rough estimate of weight at “heavy” kgs, manipulating such a volume would make reattaching the endband a more cumbersome affair.

Overhead view of a large book, lying on it's back, closed.  The books is thick, full bound in dark red leather with gold tooled decoration visible on the front board; a two line border along the edges of the board, with another smalled oblong border set midway in from the board edges, at each corner the overlapping letters DESAV, a monogram of the former owner,  the Abbé de Séve.  Inside of that border are two crests, the central one the Abbé de Séve, the upper one, heavily impressed, is the Scotts, Dukes of Buccleugh, though the 2nd and 4th quarters are interchanged.
French Ms 62 – Grandes Chroniques de France

Secondly, the endband in question was a rather substantial two-core, three-colour construction. The primary core, a cylinder of rolled paper and glue, had set with age into a sprung curve like a bow, and the smaller core – a length of cord, that sat back and above the primary – was frayed at the ends. The silk threads, a now faded powder blue, pink and white, were wound around the cores in a figure of eight about four times before switching (front bead) to the next colour in sequence, repeating along the length of the cores.

Dettached double core endband, the primary core thicker that the secondary, wrappings of blue, white and pink silk, frayed at either end. Remnants of a thicker linen thread at the right hand side
French Ms 62 – dettached endband

Thirdly, it appeared that both endbands had already been reattached in the recent past; evidence of added tie-downs of a linen thread at either end of the endbands that had slipped off. Consulting records and former colleagues it was found to be a temporary measure, mostly for time constraints, especially considering the last point…

Fourthly, the overall condition of the book was rather good: the leather covering especially over the spine was intact, and without access to the spine, sewing (for that would be the only robust means of reattaching the endbands) would be very difficult.

But it was possible, and if the endband was not reattached it would have had to be rehoused and in some way kept associated with the book, a not insignificant task in itself; much better to just fix it.

The turn-in of the covering leather at the spine tail edge was not adhered down to the spine, and a minor tear on the front board joint meant that if open and positioned correctly the spine leather could be eased away from the spine, enough to pass a curved needle between spine and spine leather at a suitably oblique angle.

Tail end of French Manuscript 62, showing the absence of its endband.  The spine leather is slightly separated from the spine of the pages.  The remnants of the blue thread used to tie down the endband can be seen protruding from the edges of the sections
The tail end of the manuscript, broken blue tie-down threads shown

The endband had originally been tied down to the book at about 12 different stations, usually with the blue silk at every other set of windings, and not always through the centre of a section.

To help with reattachment a pillow fortress of plastazote wedges was constructed to support the open book and with the tail raised up so that it was easier to access and see the spine.

The endband needed a little attention itself: having become dettached, the threads wrapped around had loose ends. Being the tail endband, and a rather heavy book, it had also suffered from abrasion whenever it was removed from the shelf and its book shoe, simple due to the weight and the awkwardness of lifting it.

Where the threads had worn along the length they tended to still cling to the endband cores, and so Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste were inserted under the threads and rubbed down.

The threads at one end had started to fray and unravel, leaving little individual loops of thread. They no longer kept to the cores and so all those that could not be set in their proper place were removed and kept safely. A thin nylon thread was added to the end, looping in the loose threads, winding around the cores and tied off.

The unravelled end allowed for new sewing to be added, anchoring the endband down without obscuring any of the decorative sewing. Starting from the second section in, and using a single thread as opposed to three, a simple loop through the spinefold was created.

As stated, the previous attachment wasn’t through every section, and not always through the centre, so necessarily this would mean piercing new holes in the spine of the manuscript. Luckily though, the binding was not the original, and it had previously been bound differently, likely in a Gothic style, that had attached a functional endband to each section, and sewing holes remained in the place they were needed now.

A spine lining of parchment had been applied, so this did need to be pierced, but this also supplied strength to the spine that would support the new sewing, protecting from the thread tearing into the spine edges of the parchment pages.

Placing the needle through the existing sewing hole, the piercing of the parchment lining had to be done slowly. A slip of parchment was placed between the spine and the covering leather to catch the needle tip before it could pierce the covering leather. Once the needle was visible it was angled and guided along the parchment slip to pull the needle and thread through.

The first loop was repeated over the top of the endband cores (the smaller core was slightly shorted and tapered at the end from wear, otherwise a figure of eight pattern loop would have been used), and a slip knot used to secure the loop, leaving a sufficient length of thread either side of the knot to continue the winding.

The winding of the endband was then continued, much as it would have been originally, but awkwardly. Going from left to right (my perspective) the cores were not separate at one end, so winding around them required lacing the needle and thread between the cores. As the sewing approached the original windings the grip of the threads around the cores increased, making it harder to pass the needle.

After about six tiedowns the gap of lost threads was covered and the endband was securely attached to the manuscript, but only at the one end. Due to the curved nature of the cores, the more one end was secured, the other lifted. With the book closed the endband still followed the curve of the spine and appeared in place, but it was clear the endband would need to be secured at least at both ends if not all along.

The endband could not be secured at each section without covering over the original thread, at which point we would question the point of the treatment, but equally not securing to each section has been derided, so we wanted to secure it at least as well if not better that it had been originally in this binding.

It was decided that to add tie downs, a simple stitch could be added at the appropriate spot; the threads were not so densly packed that an occasional additional winding of thread could sit in between the windings. A loop of thread was passed through the sewing hole and spine, the two ends of the thread passed at the same time between the endband cores, separating and each end looping around either core, then knotted around the thread undeneath the endband with a double knot and the ends cut short.

In this way the endband could be tacked down at any sewing station as needed without obscuring the original sewing, but generally at every other sewing station until we got to some larger abraded sections.

The starting attachment and these tackets were generally okay but it was noticed that whilst the book had to be open to allow the needle to transit through the spine, endbands are sewn with the book closed so the sewing can be properly tensioned; if sewn when the book is open the sewing can become slack when the book is closed. This necessitated opening and closing the book when anchoring the endband, and tensioning correctly when winding on new threads.

Only about three of these tackets were needed; for the rest of the endband we came to the worn and complete sections and it was decided to revert to oversewing with a single thread, replicating the original pattern but covering over and protecting the remnants of the frayed sections. This amounted to three sections of sewing, two to cover the frayed areas and the third to secure the other end of the endband next to the back board.

It was found that sewing from right to left was preferable as it followed the direction of the original thread, and was therefore less likely to disrupt the remnants of threads still in place.

Once finished the white linen thread stood out and so it was toned under magnification using watercolour paints, applied with a 00000 brush and using blotting paper to mask off around the endband to reduce the risk of colouring anything beyond the thread.

The reattached endband, the new white linen thread stands out in contrast to the original sewing threads in several distinct sections
The sewn reattchment of the endband
Toning of the new, white endband has been carried out, the threads that have been toned stand out as the colour is still damp.  Blotting paper has been positioned around the endband to protect from stray colour
Toning the new sewing to reduce the visual impact

The reattached endband is secured and moves with the book as it opens. The manuscript would also benefit from some minor repairs to the covering leather around the endband and along the spine, and this is being planned.

End on view of the manuscripts base/tail end, showing the completed endband reattchment and toning
The completed endband reattchment

Mark Furness

2 comments on “Endband On The Run

  1. Helen Mc Ginley

    What a brilliant title! And a fascinating insight into the world of book conservation and how tricky it can be. Thank you.

  2. The endband is now clearly more secure than it was, but it would be interesting to know why the decision was made to:
    A). Use linen thread for the repair rather than silk like on the existing endband. Linen thread of that sort of thickness (40/3?) is arguably no stronger than silk thread of similar thickness.
    B). Use uncoloured thread and not dye the repair thread to match the colours of the original windings (it wouldn’t have been difficult to duplicate, or at least attempt to match, the original winding sequence of the colours).
    C). Dye/tone the thread after and not before sewing.
    D). Leave sections of unwrapped core on the finished band.

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