Published: April 10, 2023

What should you do when your 1699 edition of Galileo’s Systema Cosmicum (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems) has no binding? The University Libraries preservation experts show you how to repair a centuries-old and irreplaceable text. 

1699 edition of Galileo’s Systema Cosmicum open to the frontispiece showing two engravings

Published in 1632, Galileo’s findings in favor of the Copernican model of the solar system were initially placed on the Catholic Index of Forbidden Books for suspicion of heresy. The work took hold with the scientific community, however, and was widely printed despite the injunction.

 Text block  of Galileo’s Systema Cosmicum shown without spine

This 1699 edition arrived at the Libraries without a cover, with loose sewing and splits in the cords holding the binding together. Some pages were detached. The book needed work before it could be handled by students in classes hosted by our Rare and Distinctive Collections (RaD) team. 

 A finger points to wear and tear in the creases of the binding

Libraries conservator Hillary Morgan examined the original sewing pattern of the binding and then followed the same pattern to sew on the detached pages. Since the cord providing binding support for this section of pages was missing, she used new pieces of cord that she frayed at the ends and adhered over the original sewing supports. 

 Two hands showing how page clusters are stitched and tied

The folded sections of pages stitched together that make up a book are called ‘signatures.’ The stitch pattern itself can be indicative of when and where a book was bound. 

 The text block is shown as the signatures are resewn

Re-sewing signatures together onto the cords is done using a sewing frame.

 The text block, shown secured with repair tissue

Pages that were detached, but not part of a signature that could be re-sewn, were inserted into the book and secured with repair tissue paper and a water-soluble wheat starch paste.

 Text block showsn with layers of repair tissue

Once the book was consolidated, the spine of the pages were lined with layers of repair tissue paper and cotton cloth. 

1699 edition of Galileo’s Systema Cosmicum shown with new binding and phase box

Because it’s not known what the original cover looked like, Morgan created an easily removable cover from Binder’s Board and book cloth that matches the clamshell box. The covers are attached by adhering cotton hinge strips. Now the book is ready to be handled.