Worth Chaucer

The Worth Chaucer

Due to a benefaction from Mr. Brendan Prendiville, Trustee of the Edward Worth Library, the Worth Library’s copy of The Workes of Geffray Chaucer (London, 1532) was sent for conservation to Trinity College Library in 2008.

Unless otherwise stated, all textual material and photographs are courtesy of Mr. Andrew Megaw, Conservator of Books, Trinity College Library, Dublin: E-mail: megawa@tcd.ie


Textual Notes


This is the first collected edition of Chaucer’s work. Chaucer was printed more than any other English author in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and he was the first author to have his works collected in comprehensive single volume editions.


Woodcut from The Squiers Tale, fol. xxix


This edition was edited by William Thynne, d. 1546, who re-used Caxton’s blocks from his second edition of c. 1483. The annotation on the title page declares that this book belonged to John Worth and was bought at Dublin in 1684 for the price of 18 shillings. John Worth, 1648-1688, the father of Edward Worth, was Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.


Ex libris on title page




The book is a full leather calfskin binding, the leather is dark brown in colour with a fine decorative sprinkle. The book is tighback and is sewn on five raised supports.

The title is gold-tooled directly onto the spine-piece. There are blind-tooled fine double rolls on the boards, forming a border. Additionally, a blind-tooled roll has been used on the boards, running parallel to the joints at the spine area. There is a blind-tooled decorative roll on the board edges. On the spine, there are blind-tooled decorative pallets at the head and tail caps and on top of the raised bands. There are blind-tooled fine double pallets on the spine panels and there are gold-tooled fine double pallets at the title, with small gold-tooled decorative tools at the corners.

The endbands are red and white thread, with a front bead, sewn around a rolled paper core; there are infrequent tie-downs. The text block edge is trimmed with a red sprinkle. The text block is slightly rounded. The text block is sewn on raised alum-tawed supports. The sewing thread is medium thickness, natural-coloured linen thread, with an S-twist. The sewing is all-along. All five supports are laced into the paste boards. one side of the alum-tawed supports is stained a bright yellow in colour, (the bookbinder may have used a recycled material to construct the supports; such as gloving leather).


chaucer3   chaucer4

Note yellow stain on alum-tawed support

Condition before conservation

There is ingrained and surface dirt on the covers and throughout the text block. The board edges and corners are ‘bashed’ and delaminated. The front board is detached. The back outer and inner joints are broken.

The covering materials are abraded and have loss of grain layer, particularly on the areas surrounding the joints and board edges. There are small areas of loss to the covering materials on the joint area of the front board. The sewing thread is broken at the front of the text block. There is some discoloration associated with the leather turn-ins at the front and back pastedowns.

The text block is relatively stable. However, the endpapers and the first leaves are detached and have edge tears, ragged edges and some complex creasing. The last leaf has losses, edge tears and complex creasing. The second from last leaf has a large area of loss, some large tears and complex creasing.

There is water/liquid damage throughout the entire text. The resultant stain/tideline is at the head edge of the text block and becomes more severe towards the back of the text block. There is some evidence of biological activity (possibly due to the high moisture content).


Last leaf


Second from last leaf


The book was photographed before and after treatment.

The covers and text block were mechanically cleaned with a soft Japanese brush and ‘Smoke’ sponge.

The board corners and edges were consolidated with wheat starch paste.

The spine piece was mechanically lifted and the spine area was cleaned with a poultice of wheat starch paste.

The leather, on the joint areas of the boards, was mechanically lifted.

The text block had been water damaged during some stage of its history; and subsequently repaired. However, the paper and over-sewn repairs were causing active damage to the text leaves at the front page and back portions of the text block. It was decided to remove and aqueous treat these portions in order to remove acidic degradations products, reduce visible tide-lines and remove the damaging historical repairs.

Leaves from the start of the text to fol xliii and at the back, from the end to fol CCCliiii, were removed and washed in a pH adjusted wash-bath of de-ionised water. The washed leaves were re-sized using a 0.5% solution of Methyl Cellulose, applied with a brush:

Paper repair was carried out using lightweight Bib-Tengujo and medium weight Usumino Japanese papers attached with wheat starch paste. The lightweight Japanese paper was used to support degraded areas of the text support and the medium weight Japanese paper was used for in-fills (the areas particularly affected were at the front and back of the text block).


Before paper repair


After paper repair


The Spine


Spine before     chaucer10

                                                       Spine after 


The spine was lined with a medium weight Japanese kozo paper and wheat starch paste.

The alum-tawed supports were broken at the front joint. New flat-braided unbleached linen supports were attached to the book using small tackets of Barbour 30/3 unbleached linen thread.

The washed and resized text leaves were re-sewn to the rest of the text block using the new supports, with Barbour 30/3 unbleached linen thread.


New supports and sewn on sections

A transverse ‘Aero’ linen lining was applied, this lining and the new supports were used to re-attach the front board and consolidate the back board attachment.

A papier-mache spine-former/hollow was constructed over the top of the raised supports in order to minimise the amount of flexing required from the fragmented original spine piece.

Aluminium re-tanned repair leather was toned with Town End Chemicals water-based Durapel (TM) leather dyes.

The book was rebacked using the toned leather.

The original materials were re-adhered.

Delaminated leather on the spine and board edges were consolidated with Klucel G.

The inner joints were repaired with thin strips of Japanese kozo paper and wheat starch paste.

Treatment Aims

To undertake paper repair and binding structure repair, so that the book’s functionality is restored.


After treatment the tide-line throughout the text block will still be present, though it will be reduced on the aqueously treated leaves. Furthermore, the tideline does not interfere with the reading of the text.

The text leaves at the very back of the text block will require careful handling due to the loss of size (caused by the water damage). This damage has created quite ‘soft’ edges to some of the leaves and reduced their physical strength. The resizing of the leaves that were aqueously treated will impart some physical strength.

The treatment will aid in the book’s future preservation and will retain as many of the original components of the book in-situ as possible.

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