There is nothing quite as inspiring as turning the pages of a book that has informed people for hundreds of years. As bibliophiles who enjoy our collections, we also share a unique responsibility to act as stewards of these treasures. Whether you own a handful of modern first editions, a horde of vintage science fiction pulps, or a library full of leather-bound antiquarian tomes, proper care is essential to avoid unnecessary deterioration. If you have books that are already in disrepair and choose to seek restoration, there will be important decisions to be made. This overview introduces the essentials of book conservation and restoration. Hopefully the tips and techniques presented here will help you enjoy your books while you preserve them for generations to come.
Books should always be carried with clean hands and lifted off the shelf. They should never be slid along shelves. It is important to store books either completely upright with both covers evenly touching the shelf, or laying flat in stacks with the smallest book at the top. If you lay books flat (this is preferred for heavy volumes) you should put a piece of acid free cardboard between the volumes.
When you remove books from the shelf always move the books around the one you are moving out of the way enough to be able to grasp both the front and back cover. Never grasp a book by the top of the spine, as this can cause the spine to break down.
The ideal shelving for books will be free of any screws or sharp edges sticking out and should be made of smooth, unpainted wood, metal, or plastic surfaced board. An important and often overlooked factor in books is air circulation. Books should be stored at least 2 inches from the wall and should not be exposed to high temperatures from radiators, heaters, or the environment.
Because dust causes damage to books, the shelves and the bindings should be regularly cleaned with a hand held vacuum cleaner. Books should be moved fairly frequently to prevent insects from taking up residence. If this should occur an insecticide should be used. Leather bindings need to be cleaned and treated with leather dressing every 5 years.
Always avoid direct sunlight and high wattage bulbs when storing books. These both make the paper degrade faster. Books from the 20th century have a high amount of lignin in the paper, which makes them turn yellow when exposed to sunlight. Windows should be small and covered if possible, and lighting should also be covered with tinted shades. For very valuable and rare books storage should be in boxes or closed cupboards when possible.
Ideally books should be stored in temperatures of between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 and 60 percent humidity. Keeping books relatively cool and dry inhibits bacteria growth and mold and mildew.
When you are establishing a library you should establish it as a place for humans and books only. Pets and food should not be allowed as these can attract pests. Also smoking around books is a fire hazard and should be refrained from.
Ironically newer books are frequently more fragile than their antiquarian counterparts. The most significant factor affecting the durability of modern books is the use of cheap paper with a high acid content. Paper with a high acidic content began to appear about 1850, but is most prevalent in books printed after 1900. Current publishing trends have been toward lower acid paper, but without pH testing it should be assumed that any modern book paper will be acidic. These papers will ultimately self destruct, first turning yellow and brittle, and finally crumbling.
To combat the effects of acidic papers a number of acid neutralizing (or deacidification) products and techniques have emerged. The basic premise is to deliver an alkaline solution to the paper in order to raise the pH to a more neutral level. Although there are some products available for home use, home deacidification is generally more manageable for individual documents and not generally recommended for bound antiquarian books. Professional services are available.
Book restoration requires a great deal of technical knowledge and specialized equipment and most collectors will not want to restore antiquarian books themselves. So we will look instead at what to expect of a book restorer and also address whether or not a book should be restored in the first place.
When you are considering having a book restored, you first need to decide if it will increase or decrease the value of the book. As a rule if the book is very rare or valuable, you may want to preserve it its current condition, as restoration may actually decrease value.
An exception to this is a book that has been previously restored. Many books have actually been recovered and restored several times. If they have not been restored in a period appropriate way, then getting them restored to mint condition may increase the value.
These are not hard and fast rules however, and a good appraiser will be able to help you and make a recommendation for your own particular circumstances. To find a good appraiser contact local auction houses that sell antique books.
It is fair to say that most people who restore books are good at what they do and passionate about their craft. It does still pay to do your homework, especially if the book you are restoring is of great sentimental or monetary value.
The best way to find a quality restorer is to ask around. Your local library is a good place to start as are book sellers that specialize in antiques. If you cannot find a good referral, be sure to ask for a reference. You want your books in the hands of a master.
A good book restorer will operate under a certain set of guidelines. These guideline define what you can and should expect when you get your book restored.
A lot of what makes an experience with a book binder a good one is communication. Just as when you are getting a car repaired, the book binder should never do more work than what you specify. If more work is needed then they should contact you and get your express permission before they begin. They will often ask you to sign a release for the work they do. This is common practice and protects both the restorer and you from misunderstandings.
They should go over the details of the procedure with you and only use chemicals that have been approved by the British Standards Institute. In addition they should remove no personal effects including notes, bookmarks, and signatures unless permission is obtained beforehand. As much as possible, repairs should maintain the original look and feel of the book.
All adhesives should be easily reversible and any special treatments or adhesives should be noted on a slip of paper inserted into the book. This allows future restorers to work on the book.
Any reputable binder should follow the above guidelines.
Getting your books restored and/or keeping them in good condition is an important task for a book collector. This guide should get you on the right track, and should help you keep your books in excellent condition.
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