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Re: [BKARTS] how little? how much?

As a Librarian who worked for 15 years in the Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia, I would like to respond to your message about rebinding fragile rare books. The primary reason for not re-binding fragile and old rare books is these days is scholarly. Many researchers/bibliographers and and bookbinders are interested in seeing books in their original binding. They want to see the original structure and workmanship because of the evidence it holds for them. In the past, collectors and libraries used to rip off the old bindings and re-bind them in modern leather or buckram "library bindings". Can you imagine how we would know anything about medieval binding methods, or the history of binding if all books had been re-bound like that? So that is why today many libraries have their conservators make simple, reversible repairs that don't change the structure and then box the book for protection.

As for Poe's "Murders of the Rue Morgue" manuscript ...it is not lost. It was purchased by Col. Richard Gimbel of Philadelphia for his Poe collection and now resides in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia with the rest of his collection -- including numerous first editions and other manuscript material (much of it currently on display in a Poe exhibition).

Not that all is well conservation wise at the Free Library, since the head of Collection Care (conservation lab and scanning lab) just got laid off, much to everyone's chagrin. That reduces a department of 3 down to one of 2.

All best wishes,

Karen Lightner
Head, Art Department
Curator, Print and Picture Collection
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine St., Philadelphia, PA 19103

-----Original Message-----
From: Book_Arts-L on behalf of Jet Foncannon
Sent: Wed 12/24/2008 4:48 PM
To: BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [BKARTS] how little? how much?
    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.

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             Annual Arnold Grummer Press sale now online at
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            and are automatically removed by the listserver.
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