Two of my favorite spine linings are below:
This first one was found in Alexander Hamilton by Henry Cabot Lodge, published in Boston in 1882. The spine lining is a colorful image of a young woman looking down while seated next to a grated window. A crescent moon and city skyline can be seen outside of the window. There’s no identifying information with this image, so its origin remains unknown, but I think it is a pretty dreamy illustration to be found hidden in the spine of a biography of a founding father.
Both the spine and spine cover were lined with printed paper in Suffolk County Deeds, Liber I, published in Boston in 1880. The paper on the spine cover is the bottom ledger line of a piece of sheet music titled Over the River. The spine is covered with a sheet of advertisements for tailoring, needles, and suits. The addresses for the businesses shown are located in London, Belfast, and Redditch, so we can safely speculate that this sheet of advertisements came from the United Kingdom. One advertisement promotes overcoats and ulsters for men, women, and children. I was unfamiliar with an “ulster” but a little bit of research revealed that it is a type of long and loose overcoat that was popular during the Victorian period. I think it is especially interesting when the spine linings provide extra information like this, setting the bookbinder in a specific time and place in history!
So how did these decorated pieces of paper end up hidden in the spine of a book? In most cases, it is simply a matter of recycling. Recycling paper as scrap is a common office practice now, and it was in bookbinderies of the past, too. When lining a spine, bookbinders would sometimes reach for a piece of used scrap rather than a new clean piece of paper. Up until the 20th century, paper was a valuable commodity, and it wasn’t necessary or economical to use a clean piece when lining a spine – after all, the spine lining would end up covered and no one would know what was underneath!
As interesting as these recycled spine coverings are, I do have to remove them and replace them with archival quality materials. Paper from the mid-19th and 20th centuries are acidic, so they could cause damage to the books that they are adhered to, and I need to repair books with stable materials that won’t cause any harm. But if possible, I can preserve the original binding materials by encasing them in polyester sheets like Mylar, labeling them, and placing them back in the book or in an envelope that accompanies the book.