Cowper’s Iliad and Odyssey

ITEMS: The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, translated into English blank verse by W. Cowper. In two volumes, London: printed for J. Johnson, 1791

Condition report:

Volumes One and Two: Paper is generally sound, with some detachment of leaves at the first folio of the first volume. Both volumes have been repaired before at least once, probably at some time in the mid twentieth century. The boards are covered in very thin calf with unusual decoration– possibly an early example of tree calf? (According to Middleton’s History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique, ” The earliest example (of tree-marbling) noted by Mr Graham Pollard cannot be dated before 1775… by 1796 it was well known in the trade.”) As these books were printed in 1791, and not necessarily bound that year though likely within a few years after, it does seem possible to me that they are an early example of tree-marbling. Some water damage to the paper at the spine, and there are darkened areas in the leather where there appear to be liquid spills. Along the spine edges of all boards, the leather has darkened, probably from the adhesive used in the previous repair.  Boards are quite worn at all corners, where there is significant loss to the leather in certain areas. The edges of the boards are tooled in gold with a slanted-line pattern.

Volume One: Front board detached, rear board attached with a wide strip of black cloth tape from the inner hinge. Most of spine is missing except for black title label, and some pressure- sensitive tape exists at the head. Two dark stains on the front board, and small areas of staining on the rear board possibly due to contact with water.

Volume Two:  Lots of opaque brown pressure- sensitive tape firmly adhered to the spine and black cloth tape on both front and rear inner hinges. No titling survives with this volume.

Recommended treatment:

Leather reback, wherein new leather is placed over the spine and joins the two boards; aerolinen is used for strong board attachment. New title labels will be made on leather in a typeface more closely matching that of the text. The boards’ corners will be injected with wheat paste as a stiffening agent, and areas of loss will be rebuilt and covered with kozo tissue toned to match the original leather cover.

All tape will be removed and any staining will be reduced as much as possible.

The light areas are kozo pulp I used to fill in areas of loss in the board.
This shows the black remainder of the cloth hinge on the front endsheet. A poultice of methyl cellulose was used to gently soak the remainder off.
This is the title page after all the necessary hinging and resewing is done. As the title page for the first volume of the set was quite worn and fragile, I lined the entire leaf with Tenguojo, a very thin kozo tissue.
After covering with the new leather, I created a new title label slightly more harmonious with the typeface used in the text than the sans- serif one made for the books when they were repaired earlier, probably some time in the 1950s. As this was more of a conservation job than a restoration one, I did add bands to the spine, but I did not do any tooling or decorative work as probably would have been on the book originally.


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