Leaf Casting

The restoration of Pep Comics #22 cover dated December 1941

Pep #22 front coverAmongst the key Golden Age comics, Pep Comics #22 is a relatively hidden gem as it contains the first appearances of Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones. To describe this book as RARE is putting it mildly. The CGC census shows, as of this writing, that they have graded 63 Copies of Action 1 (the first Superman), 65 Detective 27's (the first Batman), 127 copies of All-Star Comics 8 (the first Wonder Woman) and only 22 copies of Pep 22. As well, it is fairly accepted in the hobby that the CGC census is flawed as it doesn't account for resubmissions of previously graded books, and so there are fewer than 22 copies of Pep 22 in existence. My own research and extensive list of contacts in the hobby suggests that there are less than 15 copies and probably closer to 10 copies in existence.

This particular copy arrived in our studio as a CGC 3.0 restored (moderate, amateur). The task assigned to us by our client was to make this book as nice as possible. Having held and worked on roughly 1/3rd of the copies in existence of this book, we had the necessary experience and expertise to accept the challenge.

To begin, extensive photographs were taken of the book and its interior pages. Previous restoration to the book included extensive color-touch to the cover, infills at the corners of the cover, reinforcement and infills to the interior pages, recreation of missing text areas and tape on the centerfold.

The interiors pages, while labelled "cream to off-white" were borderline brittle, especially along the spine and edges. In addition to the restoration found, there were several defects on the book that negatively affected the overall condition - including heavy creasing on the front and back cover, water stains and foxing and severe staining to the interiors.

Pep 22 raking lightPep 22 back cover raking light

Pep 22 1st page

Pep 22 last page

Restoration began with the removal of the staples and separation of the cover and interiors. In order to determine the amount of original material still on the cover, the cover was immersed in a solvent bath - any areas that are not original will have a different density :

Pep 22 front cover solvent bath

Pep 22 inside cover solvent bath

The previous restoration was removed from the covers and interiors and assessed as to the best approach for repair. It quickly became apparent that leaf-casting was the best option, due in large part to the amount of material that was needed and its location:

Pep Comics #22 pre-casting

 After some basic consolidation and tape stain removal the cover was ready for treatment.  After casting, the cover has new paper/pulp in place of the areas of loss and is ready for inpainting and image recreation.

Pep Comics #22 cover inpainting during

After restoration, the book could now be opened and enjoyed:

pep 22 interiors after

 Once completed, the book was submitted to CBCS for grading:


 The restoration of New Fun comics #2 cover dated March 1935

more fun 2 cover before restoration Described in Comic Book Marketplace #11 (March 1992) as:

 “the second DC comic is thought to be the rarest, certainly it has the tradition of being the hardest to find”

this copy of New Fun Comics #2 (Gerber rating of 9) was sent to my studio for restoration work.  Measuring 10 inches by 15, oversized items such as this create unique challenges especially when they are as extremely fragile as this sample was.  Its folios were so brittle that traditional fold tests were useless, as the edges broke and chipped at the slightest touch.  How it even reached me without being in a million pieces, I’ll never know!

After evaluating the book, measuring its size and photographing its condition, a treatment report was generated and presented to the owner.  Initially, I recommended bleaching the book in order to restore suppleness (not necessarily improve color) as this would prepare the cover and interior folios for reinforcement during the latter stages of restoration. 

The owner, however, did not wish to bleach this book (for fear of altering the interior papers too much) and since reinforcement using heat-set tissues alone (a typical conservation approach) would only result in unnatural stiffening at the spine and edges and ultimately cause further structural problems at the repaired areas, it was decided to leaf-cast the book – thus addressing the problems of embrittlement, reinforcement and infilling at the same time. more fun comics 2 interior spine before restoration

Leaf-casting is a conservation process developed by conservators in Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R during the mid-1960’s.  In brief, it attempts to reintegrate paper pulp into the lost areas of documents through gravity and/or suction.  The entire document is submersed in a tank of water and pulp is introduced, forming a pulp slurry.  The slurry is then drawn down through the areas of loss in the document, forming a sympathetic repair of similar color and thickness to the original.

The restoration of this book began by separating the folios through removal of the staples.  While most of the folios were completely split, there were a few interior folios that were still joined at the spine and so removal of the staples was necessary to allow access to all of the interior folios.  However, even the “complete” folios were extremely fragile and were thus set-aside for leaf-casting.  

paper pulp in slurry for leaf casting

Once separated, the folios were prepped for treatment by arranging the matching folio pairs (folio 1, last folio; folio 2, 2nd last folio, etc).  Once that was completed, a sympathetic paper was created for the casting and ground into paper pulp (pictured on left) for use in a custom-built leaf-caster.  Due to the large format of this book, I needed to alter my leaf-caster to accommodate the larger folio size as well as retool my studio space to facilitate the drying of the folios after treatment.  

Folios were placed on the leaf-casting screen and the machine was filled with water.  The ground pulp was then introduced to form a slurry.  Then the suction was turned on and within moments areas that were once missing, formed.  After removal from the leaf-caster, the newly repaired folio was dried under pressure and the excess margins trimmed away (using the original edges as a guide).  The folios were then refolded at the center.

spine of new fun comics 2 after leaf casting

The cover needed particular attention, being completely split in two but also consisting of a whiter, thicker and glossier paper stock than found on the interiors. 

new fun comics 2 front and back cover before restoration

Again, a sympathetic paper was created for the casting process and after casting, the excess margins were trimmed away and the cover refolded around the interiors.

new fun comics 2 inside front and back cover after leaf casting

The leaf-casting on the cover was then inpainted to match the original and the entire book was pressed before the staples were reintroduced to the interiors. 

new fun comics 2 before and after restoration

new fun comics 2 back cover before and after restoration

The final condition of the book is estimated to be in the fine/fine+ range and is now fully restored to a supple, readable condition leaving no hint of the original brittle and unreadable book that was sent to me for repair.

new fun comics 2 inside front cover after restoration

While not every book is suitable for leaf-casting, when the treatment can be done it can save even the most damaged of books – books previously thought unrestorable when “traditional” restoration methods such as heat-set tissue and grafts were the only options. 

I have been leaf-casting paper for over 20 years and specifically comics for the last decade or so and this copy of New Comics #2 was perhaps one of the most fragile paper examples I have worked on.  It was an extensive and challenging project and despite compromises over bleaching, both the owner and I, are very pleased with the final result. 

Tracey Heft
Eclipse Paper Conservation
toll-free:  888-836-2821