JAIC 1990, Volume 29, Number 1, Article 6 (pp. 91 to 92)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1990, Volume 29, Number 1, Article 6 (pp. 91 to 92)


Sherelyn Ogden

Greenfield, Jane. The Care of Fine Books. New York: Nick Lyons Books, 1988. 160 pages.

THE FIELD needs another introductory work on the care of books, especially one that gives readers the basic information they require to care properly for their collections. Jane Greenfield's The Care of Fine Books is intended to serve that need by describing housing and handling practices that will slow the deterioration of fine books. In the author's preface she clearly defines her intended scope and audience. She limits her subject to the care of fine books, which she describes as volumes that are “well printed on high quality paper and handsomely bound so that the mechanical components of the book work well together.” She distinguishes them from rare books, which she explains are not always fine and which may, because of their materials and their structure, have a short life expectancy. She describes her audience as private collectors, rare book librarians, and curators. The volume is printed on acid-free paper and sewn through the folds, which will contribute to its longevity and usability.

The first chapter, “The Nature of Books,” describes the principal materials out of which books are made, touching upon their historical and manufacturing aspects. The most prevalent causes of deterioration of materials are briefly discussed. The bulk of the chapter is devoted to the history of binding structures and discussions of various techniques used in the bookbinding process. The next chapter, “The Storage of Books,” describes what are referred to as “desirable general conditions” for the storage of fine books. Acceptable levels of light, temperature, relative humidity, and pollution are discussed, and various ways to monitor these levels are described. Shelving, bookends, storage of nonbook materials, biological attack, and the extermination of insects are discussed. The remainder of the chapter is devoted to the danger posed by floods, fire, and theft, how to protect against these, and how to deal with them should they occur.

In the third chapter, “The Handling of Books”, Greenfield covers a variety of topics, including cleaning books and shelves, moving and photocopying books, repairing tears in pages, oiling and consolidating leather, using bookplates, and making protective containers. The chapter concludes with a discussion of conservation treatments. The chapter entitled “Travel, Display and Collection,” opens with a brief discussion of the shipping of volumes. A longer discussion of the exhibition of books follows. A section on collecting includes an article by Gay Walker on “The Book as Object,” which summarizes aspects of rarity of a volume. This section also includes information on appraising books and recordkeeping. The last chapter is a list of materials used in the storage and care of books and the suppliers from whom these can be obtained. Following the last chapter is a list of useful addresses, a bibliography with sections on the care of books, collecting, history, reference and periodicals, and an index.

The strength of Greenfield's book lies in its practical approach. It answers many of the questions most frequently asked by collectors and curators of fine books, and it includes the topics that are most important in the preservation of all books—control of temperature, relative humidity, light, and pollution, security from water, fire, and theft, and proper shelving and handling. The book would have benefited, however, from additional editing and tightening of organization. Perhaps if the reader used the book as a reference tool, looking a topic up in the index and reading only the listed pages, the clarity of the volume would not be a problem. But when read as a whole for background information, the book is somewhat confusing. In the first chapter, for example, the section on materials that make up books blends without a clear distinction into the next section, which deals with factors affecting books. General topics within each chapter need to be set off by additional headings, which would make the organization easier to follow.

The treatment of topics varies in depth, with some topics being given only cursory treatment or discussed in general terms, while others are discussed at length and in great detail. This inconsistency can be misleading to the reader new to the subject. An example is the section on binding structure. Various elements of Coptic structures are explained at length and in detail, even though relatively few of these early bindings survive, while modern case structures, which have been used on most volumes of the 19th and 20th centuries, are discussed briefly and in the most general terms. As Greenfield indicates in the preface, she does not discuss the theory or principles of conservation in any detail. Opinions differ, however, about some of the procedures she recommends, such as consolidation and oiling of leather. Although Greenfield advises caution, more discussion of conservation principles and of conflicting opinions in the context of specific recommendations would have been valuable. In conservation the most basic decisions and procedures often are not as simple and straightforward as they appear to be. It is especially important that this caution be clearly emphasized in a basic introductory book such as this one.

Writing an introductory book is not an easy task. Providing solid useful information in a conservation manner is a challenge. Greenfield has accepted this challenge and, in spite of its shortcomings, her book will be useful to many people.

SherelynOgdenNortheast Document, Conservation Center, 24 School Street, Andover, Massachusetts 01810

Copyright 1990 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works