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Bookbinding and Repairing (formerly query)

Robert J. Milevski said:

> (Twenty years ago or more the term restorer was being disparaged by folks
>starting to call themselves book conservators.  And the connotation was
>someone, usually a little old man, off in some back room, sophisticating
>for some book dealer, making them look like they did when they first came
>of the bookbinders shop.)

Artemis BonaDea said:

>A book binder is a time honored position but a book binder does not
>know or care about conservation principles or the safe and permanent
housing of
>library materials.

>From 1969-74 my business card said "Richard Minsky/Bookbinding and
Repairing". It was a variation on the card of my teacher, Daniel Gibson
Knowlton (his had the "B & R" line on top). I still call myself a
bookbinder, and proudly so. It's not as bad today as it was 25 years ago.
Then if you met someone at a party and admitted you were a bookbinder they
would get a glazed look in their eyes and wander away. Today people seem to
have an idea what it is, or at least ask a question like, "do you do it one
at a time?"

It is and has always been a craft which at times can become art. This is
true both in the creation of new bindings and the repair of old ones. Of
course, not all bookbinders are involved in fixing damaged books. But  any
competent bookbinder *does* know and care about how the work will last.
It's basic craftsmanship. The function of the craft is to preserve the
book. That's what bookbinding is. Any person who calls themselves a
bookbinder and doesn't pay attention to the quality of materials and
techniques is either incompetent or a charlatan. Look at the work Cockerell
did with the leather standards committee in England in 1904, when the
bookbinders got down on the leather industry for deteriorating tanning
methods. It was the bookbinders who made the tanners use pyrogallols like
sumac for bookbinding leather.

And remember that it was the bookbinders in the Guild of BookWorkers twenty
some years ago that printed the results on the archival qualities of
adhesives (from the NYU Institute for Conservation) in the GBW Journal.

But the interesting issue is the esthetics of
conservation/preservation/repair/restoration. I was that little old man
Robert mentions (though I was only 25 or so at the time). And it wasn't for
dealers, it was for collectors. The dealers didn't want to invest in the
work, and they generally believed it was better to sell the books in
unrestored condition. Restoration didn't always mean "making them look like
they did when they first came out of the bookbinders shop." It often meant
restoring them to usability. Mostly that was rehinging or rebacking.
Occasionaly a collector would want it to look like a new book of its
period. But that generally was when the old binding was shot to hell and it
needed a completely new one. Then it meant using materials and techniques
that existed at the time the book was printed. I listed anachronistic
bookbinding techniques to avoid in the article about me "Vanishing Breed"
in *Book Production Industry*, April 1973. There's also a good picure there
of me in the bindery looking like a vampire with long hair.

It's a lot like archaeology, with vogues in restoration esthetics. Some
people like the book to look old and well preserved, so that any added
material is blended into the original (Middleton style). Some like the new
material to contrast with the old, so it's clear which is original and
which is new. Some don't want the artifact changed at all, so it's just
boxed as is. It's not that any of these notions is superior. It's just a
matter of taste.

500 years from now, if there's still humans around after the nuclear
apocalypse (or when the alien archaeologists come), there'll be lots of
material for graduate students to write their dissertations about,
regarding twentieth century (soon 21st) book repairing and preserving.


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