This week we introduce Sean E. Richards, of the Byzantium Bindery. Sean is a true craftsman who specializes in book restoration and conservation. He combines modern conservation methods with traditional techniques to deliver superior results.
Q: What sparked your love of rare books and book binding?
A: I grew up accompanying my parents on weekend antiquing trips. One Saturday I uncovered a 1790 copy of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. That same week, I received a catalog of rare books thanks to a mistake at the post office. From then on, I was hooked. I spent my days conducting book autopsies, taking apart books to see how they were assembled.
Q: Tell us a little about one of you favorite projects.
A: The University of Oklahoma invited me to restore a 1610 copy of Galileo Galileis Sidereus Nuncius, signed by Galileo himself! The library shied away from discussing the books cost, classifying it only as irreplaceable. But it has since been valued at over $2 million. I worked on the book at a makeshift workshop in the library, over about two weeks. Even though I was confident in the quality and precision of my work, the project was extremely challenging and gained a lot of attention. It was invigorating to complete a project of such magnitude.
Q: When should a collector consider rebinding or restoring a book?
A: First its important to think about the potential value of the book. A $50 book probably doesnt merit extensive restoration, since repairing the book probably wont add significant valueor any at all. The exception is if the book has personal value.
Ultimately, restoring a book often enhances its value, makes it more usable, and ensures that youll be able to pass it down to future generations if desired. If any of these is a concern, then restoring or rebinding the book is the best choice.
Q: How does restoring or rebinding affect a books value?
A: That depends on the quality of the restoration or rebinding. A cheap library binding will most certainly decrease the value of a book. On the other hand, if the binding is totally missing, then replacing it with one close to the original will naturally add to the books value. A first-rate book preservationist can create an authentic looking replica binding and provide a record of all work done.
Q: What should rare book collectors look for when choosing someone to restore their books?
A: Book restoration really is an art form. Look for someone who can provide samples of work and referencesafter all, this person will be handling some of your most cherished investments. Ask about the materials and tools to be used. And remember that an exceptional restoration may cost more than the relative value of the book. But a first-rate job will more than pay for itself in the long run.
If you have other questions about book binding, preservation, or conservation, Sean welcomes your inquiries. Contact him via his website.