Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2024 Issue

Should Books Be Placed on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Illustration form the Journal of Proteome Research.

As with people, there are a number of afflictions that wear down our books as they age. Torn and yellowing pages, loose bindings, worn covers, are among them. Then, there are bookworms. Not the people who read them, though they certainly can damage books, but here we're talking about literal ones. These are the critters that eat holes through the pages, leaving them holier than the Bible. But, why do they pick books? Aren't there more desirable forms of vegetation to gorge on?

 

Fortunately, science can answer anything if we give it enough time, and it has now given us an answer to this question. It's all in the glue. A recent study by Rocio Prisby and others, published in the April 4, 2024 issue of the Journal of Proteome Research (citation: J. Proteome Res. 2024, 23, 5, 1649–1665) determined the type of paste used to hold the bindings of old books together. It found that flour-based pastes were used.

 

There are two varieties of wheat-derived pastes used to hold books together. One is flour paste, the other starch paste. The former is made from wheat flour as is, the latter removes most of the glutens, resulting in starch. When the researchers conducted chemical examinations of old books, they found the presence of flour-based paste used to bind them.

 

They determined wheat flour paste possessed 1,942 proteins across 749 groups. Starch paste had only 218 proteins across 58 groups. In other words, starch paste greatly reduced the glutens present. When you think of gluten-free foods, the chances are you don't like the taste as much. The bookworms evidently feel the same. They look for books that taste better.

 

Of course, people with Celiac Disease eat gluten-free foods anyway. They have reactions to gluten that cause intestinal distress, requiring they avoid these foods. In a way, the same can be said for books. Their health is also compromised by the presence of gluten, though in a very different way. It attracts pests.

 

That is not to say gluten lacks any positives when it comes to holding bindings together. It does have adhesive properties. Unfortunately, as with sufferers from Celiac Disease, the negatives outweigh the positives. Loose bindings can be repaired like new, but damage to a book's pages and covers is permanent. You can patch a hole, but it is not quite the same, not original condition. While nothing can be done at this late date to undo such damages to old books, it is a useful lesson for those who rebind old books. Stay away from tasty glue. Bland is better.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, first hardback edition, 1997. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, July 18: Binding.- Lucian of Samosata Opuscula Erasmo Roterodamo interprete, first Aldine edition, Venice, Heirs of Aldus Manutius and A, 1516. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bacon (Sir Francis). De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum Libri IX, Pierre Gassendi's copy gifted him by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Paris, Typis Petri Mettayer, 1624. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Shakespeare (William). The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry, Sirnamed Hot-Spurre…, Printed by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Darwin (Charles). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, third edition, presentation inscription 'From the Author' in a secretary's hand, John Murray, 1861. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Teague (Violet). Geraldine Rede. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree, first edition, Melbourne, Sign of the Rabbit, 1905; and another. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: India.- Primrose (Gen. James Maurice). Collection of 24 original drawings from his time in India with the 43rd Regiment of Foot, circa 1855 to 1864. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum, July 18: Manet (Édouard). Trente Eaux-fortes originales, the complete portfolio, Paris, A. Stroelin, 1905. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bible, English. [The Holy Bible], first edition of the King James Bible, the Great 'He' Bible, [Robert Barker], [1611]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: America.- Mathews (Alfred E.) Pencil Sketches of Montana, first edition, New York, Published by the Author, 1868. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bawden (Edward). Original dust-jacket artwork for 'The Outsider' by Albert Camus, [c.1946]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Forum, July 18: World.- Fries (Laurent). Tabula Nova Totius Orbis, woodcut map, [c.1541]. £3,000 to £5,000.

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