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Rare Books

Preserving Rare Books: Paper Repair and Reinforcement

As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, books have it rough. The price of reading–no matter how careful you are–is a certain amount of wear and tear. It’s no wonder that pages and hinges get the worst of it. Fortunately, there are techniques that, when expertly performed, can leave pages and hinges beautiful and more stable.

Older books often have tears and chips. There are many reasons for this including frequent handling, wear caused by damaged paper wrappers, and even bookworm damage. Tears and small holes can result from years of doing just what you’re supposed to do: reading and enjoying books.

So, what’s the solution? In rare books, the answer is often paper repair. To repair books, experts generally use Japanese paper–a type of tissue paper–and rice paste. Japanese paper has a number of helpful attributes. It’s very thin and, if you feather the edges, it can blend almost seamlessly into the texture of the paper being repaired. Also, it’s translucent, which is particularly important when the paper underneath has text on it. It’s perfect for repairing the types of chips and tears that books are prone to. Most important of all, it’s an archival treatment, which means that you can easily reverse it at any time to leave the book in its unrestored state.

A similar repair can be performed on hinges. The covers of books are opened and closed whenever you read them. That means there is a great deal of stress on the hinge that connects the text block to the boards. While some bookbinders create varieties of hinges reinforced with special sewing, cloth, or mull (a cloth with an open, grid-like weave), some styles of bookbinding–particularly English bookbinding–count on the endpapers alone to withstand generations of opening and closing. It’s no surprise then that the hinges frequently split or begin splitting (“starting,” in Bauman parlance). Not every hinge needs to be repaired, but reinforcement can be useful in cases where the hinge is particularly jiggly or seems likely to split further.

Book repairs are part of collecting books. When accomplished by expert bookbinders, they can leave books more stable, more usable, and often more attractive than they started. At Bauman, we like a book that you can read. Paper and hinge repairs allow more books to be read, handled, and collected.

Jessa Feiler

Long-time rare books and manuscripts librarian at Bauman Rare Books, medium-time bookbinder in my home studio.

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