Rebinding bound books
July 6, 2004 8:02 PM   Subscribe

Bookbinder filter: Would a bookbinder ever take apart a bound book and re-bind it into smaller volumes? (more inside of course).

I have a favorite book that is over 1200 pages long. It's just too big and heavy and unwieldy and uncomfortable to hold.

It's not a collectible book. I want it taken apart and re-bound into at least 4 or more smaller volumes that would be easy to handle. As long as the volumes are durable and comfortable to use, as in each volume can be laid open to any page without snapping shut by itself, the appearance of said volumes is not important.

Would a bookbinder be able to do this? Would they be willing to do this, or consider just the question a desecration to the printed page?

Would the cost be out of reach?

Any bookbinders in MeFi or anyone in MeFi who knows a bookbinder?
posted by marsha56 to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know of a great bookbinder in Glasgow, Scotland who bound me a 1200-page work as four volumes with a box cover. But the pages hadn't been bound previously, so his task was easier.

It cost me £100, which is around $180 I think. He seemed up for anything. Pages are just sheets of paper to him, not works of art. The art lies in the binding to a bookbinder's eyes ;)

I'm really intrigued now. What's the book? Who bound it originally?
posted by bonaldi at 8:38 PM on July 6, 2004

A nefarious sort would break the binding first. Then you would really have no choice but to get it rebound, and why not make it more convenient at the same time?
posted by smackfu at 8:47 PM on July 6, 2004

Response by poster: It's a used copy of William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream. Several of the politcal posts in MeFi had me remembering this book and how much I had enjoyed it many years ago. It was my mom's copy and she gave it away to a church rummage sale, and I wanted my own copy. Ordered it from one of Amazon's used book sellers, and it just came today.

As I mentioned, it's not the least bit collectible, just a book I've really enjoyed, and would love to read again. But it's just so heavy and hard to hang onto that I haven't really dug into it yet.

Thanks for the info about your bookbinder. That at least makes me think it would be worth asking a binder in the Minneapolis area if they might consider the job. Thanks bonaldi!
posted by marsha56 at 8:47 PM on July 6, 2004

Response by poster: That might be a good idea smackfu. If I find that they balk at the idea of taking apart a perfectly good book, I guess I could always change my story and make it a book that has come unbound, and then when I find someone who can do the job, just go ahead and do the evil deed.
posted by marsha56 at 8:51 PM on July 6, 2004

If you don't care much about the appearance, do you need a bookbinder? That seems like going to a bespoke tailor to get a mowing-the-lawn t-shirt made. Why not just go to a copy shop and pay them to run a spiral-thingy through each of the chunks? Depending on the binder mechanism and the heavy stock or laminate-stuff they have available for "covers," it could come out looking at least not intolerable.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:02 PM on July 6, 2004

I had a friend who used to rebind his own books. I think he just used a drill, some string or something, and some black tape and they came out looking pretty decent. You can probably find some instructions on DIY bookbinding on google if you want.
posted by callmejay at 10:07 PM on July 6, 2004

Response by poster: I don't care how it looks, but I do want it to last for a long, long time and for the pages to be easily turnable. I'm not sure that spiral binding would fulfill those requirements. But thanks for the suggestion, ROU_Xenophobe. If it turns out that the cost of having it done by a bookbinder is too high, I might reconsider.
posted by marsha56 at 10:26 PM on July 6, 2004

My father, who was a collector of 18th century books, used to bind and restore books as a hobby (not that he rebound the collectables, those he just restored if absolutely necessary). He put several books that were in dreary modern bindings into either more useful or fine leather bindings. Some he did mostly as works of art, the book itself was irrelevant, but many were books he liked and wanted to protect and make more useful. So what you want to do is definitely done.

I understand that you are probably looking for a professional rather than a hobbyist, but I'm fairly certain that if you are willing to pay a professional will bind what you want the way that you want as long as it is feasible and you are willing to pay. You won't need to break anything, and you probably stand a small chance of damaging the signatures if you do.

My son's godmother had a new bible rebound in calf, with slipcase, as a present a few years ago. It may not be cheap, but it might well be worth it for a book you really love, and a well bound book is truly an object to treasure; doubly so when you care about the contents.

The only limiting factor that I can think of is the current binding: if the signatures are sewn then the book is straightforward to rebind (done properly, it all gets taken appart and resewn, though I think there are shortcuts for managing without bothering under some circumstances). But if the book is perfect bound, with the pages glued into the spine like a paperback, rebinding is effectively impossible except as a labor of love, the sort of thing a professional is unlikely to do at any price.

As I seem to have wandered onto the subject of my family's strange relationship with books, so I might as well add that my brother's method for making paperbacks into multivolume works was just to break the spine and split the offending fat paperback into a nice, slim, pocket friendly volumes. A horrible thing to do to a nice binding, but entirely appropriate for a mass market paperback.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:37 PM on July 6, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks Quinbus. That sounds like good news. My book is sewn and the sewn binding is loose and not glued to the cover. I think that's why the pages fall open so nicely. Although the inside cover pages (which I would like to save) are of course glued to the cover. Don't know any bookbinder's terms. What are those inside cover pages called? And what are 'signatures'? Thanks!
posted by marsha56 at 11:10 PM on July 6, 2004

I'd check with your local librarian... I imagine that your library system has a relationship with a bookbinder.
posted by silusGROK at 12:29 AM on July 7, 2004

Signatures are the parts of books.

Imagine a book is like a collection of magazines: long pieces of paper stapled in the middle but then glued - like a selection of Harper's magazines - into a book. Each signature is like a magazine, stapled in the middle, then all glued together.

This will make taking a book apart more complicated. If you divide the book up like you seem to want to you, you will run into signature issues. You can't just slice a book apart and expect it to work; some sections are the back pages (many pages later) of other sections, and you'll be dependent exclusively on glue.
posted by interrobang at 1:17 AM on July 7, 2004

Check out Save-A-Book.

For me they've bound things that were glued, things that were sewn, things I printed on a laser printer, things my father hand wrote on a bunch of different kinds of paper and then spilled stuff on. No kidding.

I'd call them, tell them your story, and then send them the book with a note reiterating. They've never failed to provide complete satisfaction. I recommend getting the imitation leather with a ribbon book mark bound into the spine(s). It usually costs me 35$ a volume.
posted by ewkpates at 4:57 AM on July 7, 2004

The best way to find a binder is to put yourself in the position of a graduate student looking for someone to bind their PhD thesis. Ask at your local university library -- they may offer a thesis binding service in-house; or if not, they will probably be able to put you in touch with a binder living nearby.

It should be fairly cheap -- $20 or $25 would be my guess. But be warned, it will also be fairly utilitarian, involving an awful lot of glue sloshed onto the back of the binding to keep the book together. The pages will probably not fall open as comfortably as they do now -- and if that bothers you, I would advise leaving the binding as it is.

The 'inside cover pages' that you mention are usually called 'endpapers', and if this is a hardback book, then the part of the endpaper that is glued to the cover is called the 'pastedown'. I assume the endpapers have some kind of illustration, map or timeline on them, and that is why you'd like to keep them? Detaching the pastedowns from the covers will not be easy, though you might be able to persuade a binder to re-use the old covers, with their constituent endpapers, in the new binding. (However, this will add substantially to the price.)

You shouldn't have much difficulty locating a binder who's willing to do the job. But, having found them, it is essential that you meet them face-to-face, explain to them exactly what you want done to the book, and get them to explain the various options. It's like having a picture framed; you want to be absolutely sure what the end product is going to look like. I note your remark that 'the appearance of the volumes is not important', but you may find it matters to you more than you think. (Also, in my experience, the amount of trouble that a binder will take over a job is directly proportionate to the amount of interest that the customer has shown in getting the details right.)
posted by verstegan at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2004

There is a custom bookbindery in Illinois that might be able to do what you need.
(they are a FOAF, and I know they are quite skilled)
posted by milovoo at 8:29 AM on July 7, 2004

The Minnesota Center for Book Arts may be able to refer you to a local bookbinder that could do the work.
posted by hootch at 8:46 AM on July 7, 2004

back in the olden days, some people used to buy manuscripts unbound, and then take them to their bookbinder, that way the books would have matching covers and look all snazzy in their den.

i think you have a great idea.

when you have it done, have an About page put in each volume that tells the story of where the book came from, and also repeats the publisher information for each volume.
posted by th3ph17 at 9:48 AM on July 7, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great encouragement and advice given here. I guess most of all I needed to hear that this was on okay thing to ask someone to do.

I contacted a local bookbinder via e-mail and dropped off my book this morning. He said it would take about 30 days and just under $200.

I'm having it separated in 5 separate volumes (since the text of the book is already separated into 5 different 'part's), and bound in cloth since leather was WAY out of my price range. Cloth was $25 per volume and leather was $275 per volume! They are also making me a sleeve to hold the volumes along with an envelope to hold the dust jacket which will also fit in the sleeve. I've very excited to get my book back in a more readable format.

Thanks again everybody !!
posted by marsha56 at 11:38 AM on July 9, 2004

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