Book Conservation

old books on shelfSoane’s library is unique as the only intact library of a great architect which remains in its original setting, the house and museum which he built at No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. As a keen bibliophile Soane also collected widely in other fields, and his collection of some 7000 volumes includes one of the finest architectural libraries in the world as well as many other treasures published before his death in 1837. The catalogue of Soane’s library is being incrementally published on the museum’s website - please see the catalogue.

Many of the architectural books were heavily used by Soane and his pupils, and in the Soane Museum Act of Parliament of 1833 he arranged that his collection should continue to be used after his death by ‘Amateurs and Students in Painting, Sculpture and Architecture’ as ‘Academy of Architecture’. But time has taken its toll, and there are several hundred volumes in need of varying degrees of treatment.

The Museum has now set up the Eileen Harris Book Conservation Fund in honour of Dr Eileen Harris’s contribution to the cataloguing of Soane’s library, so that bibliophiles and friends can help us with this important work to preserve it for the future. It is easy to give on-line on our page at Just Giving.

These are just a few of the books in urgent need of help:


Colen Campbell, Vitruvius Britannicus. London, 1731 (vol. 1 of 3)

William Chambers’s copy of arguably the most influential and original British architectural book ever published, bearing his name on the title-plate. The other two volumes would also benefit from light intervention to stabilize them.

Description: Large folio. Mottled calf.

Condition: Front board partially detached (two cords are broken and two are very worn). Back board loose but holding. Corners slightly worn. Front flyleaf (opposite title page) has a tear and is creased.

Proposal: To re-joint both boards with hand-dyed calfskin. To consolidate the corners with paste. To repair the front flyleaf with Japanese tissue and wheat-starch paste and to humidify and press it (in situ). To furbish the binding.

Estimate: £350

John Woolfe and James Gandon, Vitruvius Britannicus. London, [1819?] (vol. 4) 

old book on deskThe first of two continuation volumes of the original Vitruvius Britannicus published in 1767-71, numbered consecutively as volumes 4 and 5. This copy of a nineteenth-century reissue of the plates bears the armorial spine-label of the politician Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland (1705-1774).

Description: Large folio. Half calf with marbled paper sides. 

Condition: Front board detached with some loss at the head/joint area, back board loose. Corners bumped and delaminated and partially covered with powdery, abraded leather. Board edges abraded. First two flyleaves buckled and creased.

Proposal: To re-attach the boards with aero-linen and re-back the spine with hand-dyed archival calfskin, preserving the two original labels. To re-tool the spine to style. To infill the missing area at the head of the front board with calfskin. To consolidate the board edges and corners with paste and to strengthen the corners with hand-toned Japanese tissue. To humidify the front two flyleaves and press them (in situ). To furbish the binding.

Estimate: £550

Vitruvius, I Dieci Libri dell'Architettvra. Venice, 1556  

The first edition of the influential Italian translation and commentary of Vitruvius’s ‘De Architectura’ prepared by Daniele Barbaro, with the assistance of Andrea Palladio who also designed some of the woodcut illustrations.

Description: Folio. Half sheep with marbled sides.

Condition: Front board detached and back joint worn but cords holding. Corners very abraded with loss to leather. Fore edge of leaf behind front plate is chipped.

Proposal: To re-attach the front board with aero-linen and re-back the spine with hand-dyed archival calfskin, preserving the original label. To re-tool the spine to style. To consolidate the corners with paste. To repair the chipped leaf with Japanese tissue and wheat-starch paste. To furbish the binding.

Estimate: £450

Isaac Ware, Designs of Inigo Jones. [London, 1731?] 

old books lying on deskVolume containing the original drawings in their reverse state, for Designs of Inigo Jones and others/published by I. Ware, undated, [London, 1731]; copies of the published work and of the second impression dated 1743 are also in Soane’s library, the latter also in need of conservation.

Description: Large oblong octavo. Lord Burlington's gilt tooled binding in full morocco. 

Condition: Front board detached, back joint cracked but firm. Some loss to headcap.

Proposal: To re-joint both boards with toned goatskin. To furbish the binding.

Estimate: £175

Charles Cameron, The Baths of the Romans Explained and Illustrated,
London, 1775

Cameron’s scholarly work expanding on Lord Burlington’s very scarce edition of Palladio’s Fabbriche Antiche (1730) was first published in 1772.

Description: Large folio. Half calf.

Condition: No leather left on spine and sewing broken in several places. Both boards detached. Leather on corners rotten and very abraded.

Proposal: To pull, guard and re-sew the text-block. To re-attach the boards with aero-linen and re-back the spine with hand-dyed archival calfskin. To letter and tool the spine with gold leaf. To consolidate and re-corner the boards with calfskin. To furbish the binding.

Estimate: £650

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