Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Spring 2012 Newsletter

Before and After:
Mark Twain's Bible

Book spine. Click to enlarge.
Book spine. Click to enlarge.
Inside cover of book. Click to enlarge.
Inside cover of book. Click to enlarge.

The conservation department of the Ransom Center is responsible for the care and preservation of the Center's collections. This feature highlights repair and conservation work on collection items.

This copy of the Bible belonged to Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), who carried the book with him during a trip to Constantinople in 1867 while he was writing Innocents Abroad.

When the Bible arrived in the book lab, the clasp was bent, which created strain on the joints of the book when it was closed. The back board (or cover) of the book had become detached because the cloth tape sewing support was broken at the hinge, and the front cover was in danger of falling off.

First, conservators had to research methods to straighten the bent clasp and determine whether doing so could cause further harm to the book. Ransom Center conservators consulted two conservators with experience in mending metal clasps, and concerns were raised about any type of treatment that involved heating the metal clasp to straighten it. Ransom Center book conservator Mary Baughman chose to remove the hinge pin and partially straighten it mechanically and without heat. When the clasp and hinge pin were reinstalled on the back board, the repair was not sufficient to make the clasp safely usable because it was still bent where it attaches to the edge of the back board. A pocket of polyester film was constructed with a sonic welder to fit over the clasp and block the attachment hole that once connected with the pin on the front board.

To reattach the back board and reinforce the front cover attachment, the leather on the outside of the boards and the endpapers on the inside of the boards were mechanically lifted so that a strip of handkerchief linen could be added to reattach the boards. The leather and endpapers were then re-adhered with paste, and Japanese paper guards were adhered to the front and back hinges of the book with paste.

A rare book box was made to house the book, and a note was added to the inside of the new box: "Do not attempt to close the clasp; doing so damages the book."

This item can be seen in the exhibition The King James Bible: Its History and Influence, which runs from February 28 through July 29.  

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