Hidden treasures: Encounters with binder's waste in Stanford Libraries Conservation Department

April 2, 2020
Elizabeth Ryan
Detached cover, visible binder's waste pastedown and sewing cords

Sophocles’ trageodiae septem… [Haguenau, France: Ex officina Seceriana, 1534] (Stanford Libraries Department of Special Collections PA4413 .A2 1534).

Recycled materials were used as structural parts of books from the early period of the printed codex into the 20th century. Referred to as binder’s waste, or sometimes more specifically, manuscript or printer's waste, these are re-used fragments of parchment or paper from previous iterations of books or documents. Binder’s waste may be hidden, in the case of spine linings or pasteboards, or visible when used as book covers, pastedowns or flyleaves. In the form of spine linings or pasteboards, binder’s waste is viewable only when a book becomes damaged in a way that exposes interior, structural elements. These elements can be clues to the circumstances of a book’s binding, or rebinding, or perhaps interesting textual discoveries from other sources unrelated to the book at hand. Conservators, with guidance from collection curators and catalogers, must balance the value in keeping these historic artifacts viewable with returning the book to a functioning state through conservation treatment. Here are a few examples of encounters with binder’s waste from the Stanford Libraries Conservation Department.

Hidden binder’s waste: spine lining

Darwin, Charles, On the origin of species by means of natural selection : or, The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.  [London, J. Murray, 1859] (Stanford Libraries Department of Special Collections, Barchas QH365 .O2 1859).

Hidden binder's/ manuscript waste inside book case

Book spine  Inside case with detached textblock

In this first edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, binder’s waste is used for the spine lining and carries a fragment of a note about a ship’s cargo. The image (above right) shows the inside of the  detached book case before conservation.  The conservation treatment involved cleaning and relining the text block spine to support the sewing structure and reattaching the covers. Our Conservation Department photographs are a way of documenting hidden binder’s waste like this.

Visible binder’s waste: pastedown inside a book cover

Mahbarot ʼImanuʼel. By Immanuel ben Solomon, [Brescia, Italy, 1491] (Stanford Libraries Department of Special Collections Taube Collection TBR 0413 CB)

binder's waste pastedown at left

Binder's waste paste down

Printed in 1491 in Brescia, Italy, Mahbarot ‘Imanu’el  is Stanford Libraries only Hebrew incunable. The binder’s waste pastedown (paper attached to the inside of the board of a book after it has been covered) is an unrelated printed sheet from a Yiddish 18th century Western European text identified by Zachary Baker, Curator Emeritus.  

Book text Book cover with marbled paper

                                                                                                                                    Book cover with marbled paper

Determining the source of this binder's waste pastedown reinforces other evidence, such as the remnants of marbled paper on the cover, that the book was re-bound in the 18th-century in Western Europe. 

This book is currently in the Conservation Department because the sewing is broken, the covers, and many pages are damaged and detached as seen at left. After consultation with Heidi Lerner, Metadata Librarian and Eitan Lev Kensky, Jewish Studies Curator, we have chosen to repair the damaged paper and rebind the book using the existing boards including this interesting pastedown waste.  This treatment will make it possible to safely turn the pages, and also maintain evidence of the book’s historic journey.

Visible binder’s waste: pastedown and pasteboard revealed through damage

Sophocles’ trageodiae septem… [Haguenau, France: Ex officina Seceriana, 1534] (Stanford Libraries Department of Special Collections PA4413 .A2 1534).

In this early printed copy of  Sophocles' Seven Tragedies, binder’s waste is used inside the front and back covers. In the late 15th and early 16th-centuries, as printed books were supplanting manuscripts, manuscript pages were often cut up and used as structural parts of books. 

 Binder's waste manuscript pastedown at left

Binder's waste (manuscript parchment) pastedown

The parchment pastedown inside the front cover is identified in the SearchWorks record which reads, “Front manuscript waste is a 15th century neo-Latin commentary on Horace with section marks in red and blue.”


Binder's waste as laminated sheets in pasteboard

                                                                              Binder's waste (manuscript paper) pasteboard

Inside the back cover, the pastedown has gone missing, revealing the pasteboard made of paper manuscript waste.  This board illustrates how the increase in print production influenced book making. The popularity of smaller and more portable texts such as this ushered in a transition from wooden to paper-based boards.  With more printed and manuscript waste becoming available, old documents were recycled and multiple sheets were adhered together to form pasteboards. This  innovation came from the Islamic world through Italy in the late 15th and early 16th-centuries. The layers of manuscript paper can be seen in the separating ply at the inside board edge.                   

Pastedown lifted to show pasteboard 

Here the pastedown on the front inside cover is not fully adhered to the board, revealing the binder's (manuscript) waste in the pasteboard. Conservation treatment involved reattaching the front cover board and reinforcing the sewing with linen thread. The examples of binder's waste remain visible. Elements that might have been secured in a conservation treatment, like the tenuous pastedown attachment and delaminating manuscript board ply, were left so that the details of construction with historically significant binder's waste can still be viewed.

These are just a few of many examples of binder’s waste from Conservation Department projects. Many exist throughout Stanford Libraries’ Collections and are well described in SearchWorks thanks to the work of Ann Myers, Rare Books Cataloger.

Related to this topic, Ben Albritton, Stanford Libraries Rare Books Curator, has been working with Rowan Dorin, Stanford Assistant Professor of History, and his students in an ongoing project to describe manuscript fragments in the Library. Their findings  will eventually be integrated with the SearchWorks records.  

Additional examples of binder’s waste can be veiwed in this exhibit about Hand Bookbindings from Princeton University Library.