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[BKARTS] how little? how much?
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- Subject: [BKARTS] how little? how much?
- From: Jet Foncannon <bolu.bolu@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 24 Dec 2008 16:48:01 -0500
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A recent meeting of the Delaware Society of Bookworkers took place
at the Library Company of Philadelphia, a revered and ancient
institution in Center City. Their collection of books is extraordinary,
including some very old volumes.
Some of these volumes are showing severe signs of aging. The
Library had made no attempt to restore these volumes; the ones that
were the most damaged were housed in specially made small decorative
boxes. Many of these volumes had originally extremely intricate gold
tooling on their leather covers. The Victorian books often originally
had detailed parti-colored illustrations on their front cloth covers.
To have restored such books to their original condition would have been
prohibitively expensive, if it could be done at all.
A recent visit to the rare book room of the University of
Pennsylvania showed me an alternative solution to the problem of aging
books. They DID have many of their old volumes rebound--- in simple tan
buckram with gold stamped titling and the year of the book stamped at he
bottom of the spine. It was a little bizarre that a token gesture toward
authenticity had been made by emulating the raised bands on the original
volumes. A visit to the famous Rosenbach library in Philadelphia
revealed that many of their volumes had been rebound in the same way.
The Linda Hall Library in Kansas City is the premier technical
library in the world. Among its rare books are original editions of
Newton, Galileo, Versalius, Hook. The library employed a bookbinder who
taste, to say the least, is unusual. The director of the library showed
me proudly a copy of Newton's "Principia Mathematica." It was bound in
a garish green lambskin leather. Rather than reflecting at all its age,
it looked like one of those pricey reader's club editions that one sees
clogging the shelves of bookstores.
The question is: how much, or how little is it reasonable for a
library to do? Book don't complain, so the library budget is the first
thing to be cut when an institution is falling on hard times. More and
more books from private collections, in which, presumably, much more
could be spent on restoration, are ending up in public and university
However, when institutions can't afford to maintain their books,
they often sell them, and they become inaccessible to the public. Drexel
University, where I taught for thirty years, divested itself of some
prize materials in its search for construction dollars. One, the
original manuscript of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Murders in the Rue
Morgue," entered the private market never to be seen again. This is
particularly regrettable since the Poe work is a Philadelphia cultural
artifact, having been written when the author was a resident on Spring
Garden Street in this city. Many rare books were similarly deaccessioned.
Do bookworkers, in particular, those involved in the restoration of
books, live in a never-never land, when few institutions possessing
rare books can avail themselves of any of our expert services? Are we
collaborating with the enemy when we do only a serviceable rebinding of
a book? If that is so, it is not clear what the massive accumulated
knowledge possessed by the membership of GBW and by those correspondents
on this list can significantly accomplish.
Annual Arnold Grummer Press sale now online at
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