The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Taming a tight binding

You know how some old bindings gently let a book stay open on its own, at a comfortable angle? And how other old bindings seem to willfully resist, taunting you by starting to close just as you get the book weights perfectly arranged? This post introduces a simple tool that can help tame those tight bindings: a V-shaped wedge of lightweight plastic.

Plastic wedge holding a book open for reading.
Plastic wedge holding a book open for reading.

The Folger Reading Room has a number of plastic wedges of different sizes, known in-house as “Vivak wedges” thanks to the brand name of the plastic, which can be cut with board shears, and bent by hand. 1 With the wedge in place, the pages stay open at a safe angle for the book, and a reasonable angle for reading. Not great, but reasonable.

Book with tight binding held part-way open with a plastic wedge.
Book with tight binding held part-way open with a plastic wedge.

Vivak wedges are also useful in the Cataloging and Metadata Department, where careful transcriptions of title page text are key. Propping a book open to its title page with a plastic wedge is a space-saving alternative to setting up a book cradle. It’s also much safer for the books when dealing with brittle paperbacks, like this Czech edition of Macbeth

Book with brittle end-leaf held open to title page for cataloging (paper cover detatched and set aside)
Book with brittle end-leaf held open to title page for cataloging (paper cover detatched and set aside)
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Plastic wedge supporting brittle end-leaf.

Currently, most of our plastic wedges are 0.06″ thick, since that’s the thickness we keep on hand for custom cradles in the exhibition hall. We have begun experimenting with thinner (and therefore, lighter) plastic to hold books open for reading. Even extremely thin plastic can be useful to hold brittle pages open for reading, when the binding already opens naturally. This plastic “wedge” is a folded sheet of polyester film no thicker than an ordinary sheet of paper:

Brittle pages held open by a folded sheet of polyester film.
Brittle pages held open by a folded sheet of polyester film.

If you find yourself in a tight spot in the Folger Reading Room, please do ask at the desk for a Vivak wedge. Or, just one word…

  1. See Rhea Baier, “Vivak: An Alternative to Conventional Plexiglas and Museum Board for Exhibition Mounts,” The Book and Paper Group Annual 22 (2003): 109–110. Note, however, that the Folger no longer mounts books vertically, and that Rhea Baier is now Rhea DeStefano.

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