Brief History of Linenbacking
As a collector, I had heard that linenbacking
didn't start until the 1960s, but as I was researching into the feasibility
of the restoration section, I looked into linenbacking and found an area
that looks like it has been completely overlooked - The History of Linenbacking.
To see where it came from, you have to
go back almost 150 years. There is an old saying that 'Necessity is the
Mother of Invention', (and no this article isn't about Frank Zappa) and
that is definately true when it comes to linenbacking.
The trail of linenbacking is very interesting
but let's just look at an overview so we can keep it brief.
It goes all the way back to the Civil
War. Before the engaging of battles, military leaders had to have a lay
of the surroundings to be able to create a battle plan and strategy. Consequently
weeks before battles, maps of the area would start disappearing in the
With the majority of the lithographers
located in the north, the union army created a department called Topographical
Engineers headed by Major Jedediah Hotchkiss. The main generals carried
printing presses with them to be able to reproduce drawings and local
maps to hand down to the sub-ordinate commanders.
An interesting side note on this is
the stories of some of the Confederate generals that didn't have printing
presses would send someone into areas where they thought could be future
battles posing as map peddlers. They would bring in general and common
maps and then buy up all the local maps to bring back to the commanders.
The common paper maps were folded, opened
and closed so many times that they rapidly became worn and would tear
at the folds. The union army had printing presses to replenish the worn
maps for the commanders. For the headquarters, where maps took a lot of
wear from changes and modifications, they printed major maps on fine muslim.
BUT for the poorer southern armies, they
couldn't replace the maps as easily and had to contend with the wear (ok..
you can tell I'm from the south).
The story goes that to extend the life
of the worn maps, a common flour and water paste was used to glue the
worn maps to cloth giving them a lot longer life. This backing also allowed
them to fix any holes or torn parts of the worn map and redraw parts that
they needed....... and an early form of linenbacking was born.
After the war this process was refined
and became very popular. Preservationist found that this backing gave
them the means to fill in and repair worn areas for restoration. Maps
in the late 1800s can be found on the collectors market today that were
linenbacked at the turn of the century to preserve their life.
The commercial market expanded it to any
type of historical document or artwork that needed restoration.
As the commercial market adapted and refined
the linenbacking process, it was found that since the cloth was a lot
more flexible and giving than the paper, movement would actually start
to cause abrasions and wear on the BACK side of the paper. To combat this
wear, an additional step was added to help stop the abrasion. A fine non-acidic
paper was added BETWEEN the cloth and the map or paper. The finer paper
was more flexible and would absorb the wear and become a buffer.
For more on how linenbacking is done,
see our article on Linenbacking