The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 9, Number 7
Dec 1985


Book Conservation's Professional Cousins

Book conservation is like the conservation of other functional objects: musical instruments, clocks, puppets and locomotives. The conservation is not complete until the thing can work again. The goal is not to make it look like it did before, but to enable the reader or observer to experience its principal features as fully as possible.

Book restoration is like dentistry: the work is performed on material that belongs to the client, and involves a great deal of trust; it consists of restoring for use the parts that have not deteriorated too badly, adding compatible mew material where necessary; materials are chosen for permanence as well as for appearance; work is performed on organic material, which is vulnerable to the action of acids and microorganisms; and adhesives are important.

Bookbinding skills, which are very important to the book conservator, are similar to skills used in cabinet-making: the ability to plan a complex assembly process, and do all the steps in the right order; the fine eye for accuracy and close detail; the attention to both function and appearance; a concern for good materials and permanence; and the necessity of turning over one s creation to the person who commissioned it, who may or may not know how to care for it.

Bookbinding is also like framing: both are concerned originally with protecting the part in the middle; they may make the protection (cover or frame) into a work of art in itself, which then calls for its own conservation; the painting or textblock may have several protective structures in its lifetime; and every protective structure after the first one brings up the hard choice of whether to make it in the style of the period during which the work originated, or to do it in a contemporary, modern, style.

Bookbinding as a career is like art and acting: many are called, few are chosen.

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