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Protecting Gilt Edges on Rare Books

By Kristin Masters. Oct 26, 2011. 2:17 AM.

Topics: Rare Books, Book Collecting, Book Care

The process of gilding has existed since ancient times, when both Greeks and Egyptians covered wooden statues in metal. The technique was picked up by book binders as a means to protect pages from the oils and dirt of human hands—in addition to making the book itself more beautiful.

Modern bookbinders use a variety of highly specialized techniques to gild books, usually with gold or silver. The gilding process has, naturally, evolved over time as technology grants more available tools and knowledge. Gilding may be applied to the cover, spine, and block of a book. If the pages are gilt, you may see rare book sellers describe the books in one of two ways:

  • All edges gilt (AEG): All three sides of the block are gilt.

  • Top edge gilt (TEG): Only the top edge of the block is gilt.

  • Individual pages within the book may also be gilt. These are described as being illuminated.

Caring for Books with Gilded Designs

Gilt edges can be susceptible to scratches and other physical damage, so they should be handled with care. Gilding on the spine and cover may be particularly vulnerable, since they have no protection. A few options are available for preservation of gilt edges, covers, and spines:
  • They can be enclosed in archival mylar protection. The “plastic” can protect the gilding from wear due to rubbing.
  • Like all rare books, books should be protected from sunlight.   A custom made slip-case or clamshell-case are most suitable ways to protect books from sunlight and general damage.
Meanwhile, when you handle books with gilt designs and pages, it’s important to be gentle and treat the books with care. Avoid placing the book on rough surfaces and cleaning or wiping them with chemicals. Consult an expert before cleaning a gilt book.

Kristin Masters
Master Content Brain. You think it, she writes it, no good thought remains unposted. Sprinkles pixie dust on Google+, newsletters, blog, facebook, twitter and just about everything else.


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