This week we are happy to welcome Bruce Levy, a renowned book conservator. Since 1980, Bruce has worked with high-end rare book dealers, collectors, and institutions throughout the United States.
Q: Tell us a little about what a book conservator does.
A: A book conservator is someone who works to preserve and/or repair damaged books, usually rare books. I work with rare book dealers, collectors, and academic institutions. Our goal, stated loosely, is always to return the book as close to the original state as possible. In some cases (especially early books) original structural elements may be as important as the text itself. Written, and sometimes photo-documentation are always included with treatment to allow future conservators, curators, and owners to be able to make subsequent treatment decisions from a point of knowledge of past treatments.
Q: What are some of the most common repairs youre asked to make?
A: Most damage is caused by mishandling. Treatment can address the binding, the text block and sometimes both. The spine or tail of the book might need repair, the joints and hinges might be weak or broken, or the boards (the covers) may be detached completely. Corners also take a beating and may need some TLC. Text block treatments can be as minor as torn leaf repairs or as major as complete text washing, deacidification, repair and re-sewing. Binding repair can be as simple as japanese paper repairs of small splits of binding material, and repair and consolidation of exposed, delaminating board corners, or be as extensive as complete binding restoration, retaining all possible original material.
Q: How do you decide which materials to use when you restore a book?
A: I always strive to match the new material to the old as closely as possible. Granted, wear and aging sometimes make it impossible to achieve a perfect match, but the repairs should be as unobtrusive as possible. A skilled craftsman should be able to provide adequately strong, appropriate and often virtually invisible repairs that are sympathetic to the original "book as object."
Q: Do you ever tell someone that a book is not worth repairing?
A: In some cases, the cost of restoration might exceed the value of the book, so a dealer might not be interested in doing that, but private collectors and institutions may have other motives and criteria for preserving their books. University libraries, for instance, may have pieces that simply cannot be replaced, so proper conservation is critical. "Intrinsic value" varies significantly with the owner, institution, collector, or dealer, so it's important for the conservator and client to understand and communicate clearly so the proper treatment options are presented and decided on.
Q: What do you wish people knew about caring for rare books?
A: Its all about proper handling and climate control. Although collectors might not be able to use book preservation technologies like dew point calculators or specialized HVAC systems, they can be sure to store their books in a cool, dry place, away from sun exposure. And handling your rare books gently will certainly extend the life of their spines, joints, and bindings.
Bruce will be blogging with us quarterly. Check back soon for insights on book preservation, advances in conservation, and more. Visit him at Biblio.com or reach him via email at email@example.com.