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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 surrounding areas.

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

Special thanks to George Theofiles at Miscman.com for some great information.


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