Veteran Massachusetts bookseller Joyce Godsey has written a short and useful guide to basic book repairs. Her advice is: “If the book is worth more than $250, send it to a professional or sell it AS IS.”
But, she observes, most dealers encounter many books of lesser value, not worthy of professional conservation and restoration. In that situation skillfully correcting minor imperfections can often make them salable and significantly raise their value.
To that end she offers “Book Repair for Booksellers - A handy guide for booksellers and book collectors offering practical advice on how to improve the quality and look of your books and ephemera.” This is useful, well organized information presented in a clear and simple format.
The title published under her own SicPress.com imprint first appeared in 2009. Since then it has steadily gained an underground following. Even if you’ve been in the trade for a long time and already know how to do most of these standard fixes, at $1.99 for an 86 page pdf you can’t go wrong. The volume is also available as a trade paperback for $16.
“In my life as a bookseller,” Godsey writes in her preface, “I have seen books repaired with book tape, duct tape, electrical tape, and masking tape. I have seen rubber cement, white glue, airplane glue, superglue, and hot glue. I have seen them priced with stickers, ink, crayon, marker, and lipstick.
“And I have been asked to remove every bit of it. Some of these mutilations were done by people I know and respect in the field. I have even done a few myself (I did library-type repairs on books in high school and have been paying penance ever since).
“I know a bookbinder who sells bottles of furniture polish and neatsfoot oil and calls it ‘book crème.’ I know another who buys saddle polish and re-labels it as a ‘leather book treatment.’ And I know a bookstore that uses electrical tape to re-back reading copies.”
As she is quick to point out, “There are better and less dangerous methods of repair.”
It’s amazing just how much of that basic information she provides including tools and supplies, dealing with dirt, wrinkles, bubbles, stickers, library marks, book plates, tears, missing and damaged endpapers, loose and broken hinges, bumped corners, attaching pages, cocked spines, warping, mold, de-acidification, the list goes on and on.
What’s good about her advice is she gives multiple ways to approach each situation and she knows when to stop. As in STOP.
• If you don’t know the book’s true value, STOP.
• If you think you may harm it, STOP.
• If you aren’t sure what it’s going to look like later, STOP.
• If you can’t afford to throw it away after you have ruined it, STOP.
“When in doubt: DO NOTHING,” is her all purpose basic guidance. “Give it a once over for 10 minutes then sell it AS IS. Doing nothing is the safest course of action.” But she adds, “Doing repairs that keep small injuries from becoming big ones is even better.”
Here, for example, is a portion of her advice on replacing endpapers:
“The endpaper is the final piece the binder applies to cover up all the unattractive parts of the fine work he or she has just done. It also tightens the bond between the text block and the binding and prevents the boards from warping.
“Replacing an endpaper or even all the endpapers is not a crime. Endpapers have always been replaceable.
“Saving endpapers from damaged and discarded books is a helpful trick of many booksellers. Blank and nearly blank pages from textbooks and other reference books can be used. Even if a page has two or three lines on it, the page can be cut down to fit a smaller book (you can experiment with bleaching the ink off a page, but you will never be happy with the result. By the time you remove the ink you will also be removing any patina and foxing the paper has in it and it will never really match.)
“Keep loose endpapers in a file drawer sorted into folders by height; you can put colored, patterned and clay pages in other folders by hue. Use a light source such as a window to match the paper’s age, watermarks and fiber content to a page from the book itself.”