Important book damaged, how can I fix?
July 15, 2008 12:18 PM   Subscribe

A book that is very personal and valuable to me got damaged due to a leak in a car which allowed rainwater in. The book cover acted like a sponge dragging up the water as well as dirt from the upholstery. I've talked to two book repair places, but I have my reservations. Any suggestions? Even more desired: anyone have EXPERIENCE with book repair shops?

The damage is mostly to the bottom corner of the book where the spine is located, though the other bottom corner has some discoloration and some warping. The pages of the book closer to the cover (beginning and end of the book) have perhaps 3-4" diagonal of warping and a brownish discoloration that looks like iced tea (though it was water and dirt).

Towards the middle of the book it is about one inch diagonal.

The book is oversized with coated pages.

Now this book is still in print in its exact format, however I have had many pages of this book autographed by some people who no longer sign. So I am thinking the best solution would be:

a) get a new book
b) Repair only the pages in the old book that contain autographs
c) Merge autographed pages of old book in place of non-autographed pages in new book.

My wife and I have found some book binding places online. The first, seemed great online, but when we sent pictures they said they "can't work miracles with coated pages" and said they were unable to present any type of quote without seeing the book first-hand.

The second, seemed good at first, we provided pictures of the damage as they asked, and then they stopped replying to our e-mails.

We are both very upset about this book being damaged and would like to restore it to original condition as much as possible. I can't say "cost is no issue" but the book is very valuable to us, but we want to get service worth the price we pay.

Can anyone recommend a book repair place, perhaps some that specialize in coated books? Please, no "do-it-yourself" options...neither of us are very handy and would likely make the problem 1000 times worse.

Thank you!
posted by arniec to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had a very personally-valuable book repaired with amazing results by the Harcourt Bindery in Boston, MA, USA (no idea where you are located). The book was my grandfather's copy of the American Practical Navigator, the sailor's bible of navigation at sea. It had been around the world, soaked, salted, and sunburned. The whole binding was coming completely apart. The main problem I had was that the paper affixed to the insides of the front and back covers had notes written by my grandfather, and I wanted to preserve those but otherwise totally re-bind the book.

Harcourt did an amazing job, the new cover and binding are beautiful, and this book is now one of my most prized possessions.

In terms of price, I had this work done as a gift from my father, so I don't know what it cost. In terms of service, I would submit that the book repair industry is not one of the more technologically advanced. Harcourt specializes in repairing old books, and their internet presence and technical savvy may reflect this. I would suggest calling places, rather than emailing them. Further, I wouldn't expect much in the way of a quote without them seeing the book themselves. There's all manner of stuff they need to check out that I think would be difficult for you to describe to them, or document in pictures. I'd trust Harcourt enough to mail them my book if they thought it would help them come up with a plan for restoring it.
posted by autojack at 12:37 PM on July 15, 2008

Pictures? I know some bookbinders (people, not shops) that might be able to give you an idea. It's hard to tell without seeing the damage. I don't know that they would know how to restore pages to their full glory, but they may be able to suggest how to flatten pages or remove discoloration, and can at least disassemble a book and re-bind it.

One consideration is contacting a museum or library that actually restores old books and manuscripts - they may be able to direct you to people that can help.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:37 PM on July 15, 2008

I don't know who could provide this service, but I have no doubt that some folks in Houston would point you in the right direction. Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 probably put some book restorers' kids through college.

I'm certain any of the librarians at the UH Law Center (library in the basement during a flood = bad news) would be happy to give you some referrals. Or, for that matter, any of the affected librarians at Rice University or the Medical Center could recommend a restorer.
posted by GPF at 12:59 PM on July 15, 2008

What you probably need is a paper or book conservator, not a bookbinder. The American Institute for Conservation guidelines for selecting a conservator has good information and a form to help you find a conservator to do some treatment on the book pages for you.
posted by gudrun at 2:13 PM on July 15, 2008

I'm sorry to hear about your book, mainly because I have no good news to give you. Coated paper does something really nasty when it gets wet - it's called blocking. If your book was still wet, there would be a chance it could be salvaged, but once the paper dries together, it's pretty much staying that way. The cause lies in the ingredients of the coating. The core of the paper is like any other (some kind of pulp fiber base), but it is then coated or impregnated with various types of clays, resins, glues and other materials to make a uniform printing surface for nice glossy images/text.

Imagine taking 2 balls of clay (or Jell-O, since sizers can take on this consistency as well when wet) and smashing them together, then hoping to salvage their original shape after letting them dry. Perhaps not impossible, but I can understand why the other folks you contacted didn't want to touch it. The process is well nigh irreversible.

If you find a book with coated pages that is still wet, the best idea is to chuck it in the freezer until you can find a conservator with access to a vaccuum freeze-dryer.

Unless the book itself is super valuable, I would suggest locating another copy of it and (as long as the signed pages aren't stuck together as well), as you said, merge the 2 copies together. Otherwise, if the signed pages are stuck as well, look over the signatures fondly one last time before you send it on its way to Book Valhalla.

(if you have any other questions, you can contact me off MF - this is what I do for a living)
posted by ikahime at 6:38 PM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

...the book repair industry is not one of the more technologically advanced...

It is as advanced as the technology requires it to be.

Bookbinding is hundreds of years old. In that time, the technology has not really needed to change. We use equipment that is a hundred years old because that is what works best.

If you are referring to book repair folks not being web-savvy... well, I will partially agree with you, but there's more of us out there trying to blend the 2 worlds together as other businesses have. It's just hard to tear us away from our fun cast-iron equipment and huge cutting devices!
posted by ikahime at 6:47 PM on July 15, 2008

If you have salvageable pages, perhaps you can purchase a new version and have the salvaged pages tipped in.
posted by Foam Pants at 7:41 PM on July 15, 2008

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