Sophia S.W. Bogle. Book Restoration Unveiled: An Essential Guide for Bibliophiles. Ashland, Oregon: First Editions Press, 2019. ISBN: 978-1-7324317-3-7. 273 pp. Order from https://www.saveyourbooks.com/product/pre-orders-for-book-restoration-unveiled/. Download, print, and bind as well as e-book options are also available. $26.99 (pre-order at $19.95 until June 2019).
Reviewed by Peter D. Verheyen
The introduction presents the author and her experiences: how she entered the profession (beginning, as many seem to have, as a work-study student in preservation/binding at their college library), progressed to an apprenticeship with an antiquarian where started learning what makes books valuable, training with the book restorer David Weinstein as a binder, opened her own studio, and attended the American Academy of Bookbinding among numerous other experiences. In describing her studio she cracks open the door to the real text in the form of a dialog with a book on her bench. Bogle enumerates her professional associations and her efforts to share her knowledge with her audience. Although she never became the antiquarian she thought she might become, she did specialize in the repair of books for individuals and antiquarians who in many respects are the main audience for this book. This is not, however, a “how-to” manual. Rather, it is a “guide to help you understand the world of restoration, to recognize restorations, and to choose the right professional to do those restorations. Further, “this book [is] a bridge between the world of collecting, buying, and selling books, and that of book repair, restoration, and conservation.”
Book Restoration Unveiled is divided into eight chapters: A Brief History of Book Collecting and Restoration; Is It Worth It? The Value of Book Restoration; Book Lovers, Book Collectors, and Book Dealers; Bookbinders, Book Restorers, and Book Conservators; How to Identify Book Restorations; Book Damage and Treatment Options; Facsimiles, Sophistications, and Fraud; and Buying and Selling Restored Books. In addition to these main chapters, the book also features a broad and deep list of resources including a glossary and color plates for more richness than the black and white images found throughout the book.
These chapters work a reader, bibliophile, antiquarian, restorer, etc. through a logical progression. The brief "History" is broken into eight “eras,” defined by the author beginning in ancient Mesopotamia. For each, she shares information relating to production, the value of the object in its context, preservation, repair, and threats. Included are mentions of significant persons and works from that period such as de Bury, Cockerell, Diehl, Middleton, and many others.
“Is it Worth It” describes the various criteria one might use in deciding whether it is worth treating a book, leaving as is, or discarding it. These are considerations that are at the heart of conversations between the various sets of antiquarians, collectors, curators, and those being asked to treat a given item. Bogle describes some of her reasons for making a particular decision, but then demonstrates how these are applied sharing an appraiser’s insight and a case study.
Interviews in which “Book Lovers, Book Collectors, and Book Dealers” describe their connections to their books, why they select what they do, value considerations, condition, when and whether to treat. are featured in this chapter. While there are many similarities in their responses, there are also subtle differences making a closer reading very interesting. After defining “Bookbinders, Book Restorers, and Book Conservators,” the author discusses how these approach their work and provides the bibliophile with considerations and questions to ask in working to select someone to treat their books. Whether the practitioner has the necessary holistic skill, training, and background appropriate for the book in question is a particular concern. Questions include the types of materials and structures they might apply. This is informed by the author's experiences as a practitioner which is woven throughout the chapter and the book; as well as those of selected colleagues.
“How to Identify Book Restorations” is a deep yet very accessible dive into the physical properties of book structure and materials and how to identify repairs and other potential problems with them. Repairs when not well done are easy to discover. It can quickly get murkier if the repairs are skilled, and it is here that the author includes the “perpetual caveat:” when in doubt, go for the most conservative option – preservation. The question of whether a collectible item has been repaired or restored is increasingly becoming a criteria for collectors, not just of books. Repair, however, can be critical for ensuring the book can be used, nevermind fall apart. This chapter has descriptions of repairs and their impact, and is richly illustrated with very clear diagrams and photos of treatments, good/bad, before/after that provide valuable context.
“Book Damage and Treatment Options” takes the material from the previous chapter and builds on it by preparing the book's owner to speak to the practitioner, whether a skilled bookbinder who performs repairs or a conservator. Bogle defines what is meant by the different categories of repair, restoration, preservation, and conservation lab. To support the definitions, she compares and contrasts these, also citing the American Institute for Conservation’s definitions. Next, she defines many of the terms binders and conservators use to describe various treatment steps and techniques, again in very clear language. Because people want to help, to do something, the author includes the necessary “warning” to the "do it yourselfer" about dated and wrong information that can be found online and in print (even if such treatments were once state-of-the-art), also acknowledging that there is also good information to be found. After this, Bogle provides instruction for some very basic treatments such as freezing to kill insects, using soot sponges for surface cleaning, and drying wet books. Dust jackets are discussed before taking on structural repairs to the book, almost all with three options for a particular problem such as textblock that has come out of the cover. Again, the text is accompanied by clear photographs illustrating the problems and treatments. This and the previous chapter are well worth the price of the book and provide the bibliophile with sound and pragmatic information in clear language.
“Facsimiles, Sophistications, and Fraud” “includes tips to help you avoid inadvertently buying books that have been touched by the dark side,” i.e. those employing deceptive practices to increase perceived value. As in past chapters Bogle then proceeds to define many of the types of techniques that can be used for good when done well and documented or more nefarious purposes, all in clear and understandable language. The author also includes interviews with book sellers, binders, and restorers, as well as case studies of books where facsimiles, sophistications, and fraud come into play.
Finally, in “Buying and Selling Restored Books” the author comes back to antiquarians who will employ binders, restorers, or conservators when needed. Bogle asks: what are their criteria for acquiring books to resell, what options do they have, and why chose the option they did? This is done in interviews with booksellers through a series of case studies that make these questions come alive in language that collectors will find in for-sale announcements, catalog descriptions, and elsewhere. The chapter concludes with links to reputable bookselling associations and sales portals.
Appendices provide links to many of the resources mentioned in the book: bookselling portals, educational opportunities, individual book sellers, book restorers, commercial binders, conservation labs that accept work from the public, professional associations, and vendors for tools and archival supplies. There are also a well-done glossary of terms and bibliography, most mentioned in the text, but even more useful in this form. The appendices are rounded out by acknowledgements, notes, and color plates of problems and treatments that could not be included in-line in the main text due to book production processes.
To conclude, Book Restoration Unveiled fills a niche in the literature that “lifts the veil” on books, the repair trades including restoration and conservation, and bookselling in a way that is very clear and understandable. It pragmatically explains the nuances, provides many examples of why something might be treated, or not, and provides much needed context. Fears of effusive “every book is sacred” were quickly put to rest as the author systematically worked her way through the process, greatly enhancing it with interviews and case studies that are not often found in books of this nature. Some of these topics could quickly become contentious in discussions between the practitioners, but the author handles this deftly by providing context, caveats, and options, making this a book that collectors, practitioners, and sellers should have in their reference collections.
[Note: This review was subsequently republished in Book Arts Arts du Livre Canada, 10(1) and the in abridged form in the Guild of Book Workers Newsletter, 244.]
Peter D. Verheyen's career path began much the same as the author's, beginning as a work-study student in conservation and preservation, apprenticing in hand bookbinding, and working in private practice and research library conservation labs before establishing Syracuse University Library's lab. He continues to bind and exhibit book for pleasure, maintains the Book Arts Web and Book_Arts-L listserv, and blogs here and on his Pressbengel Project. He is also an excessively avid collector of bookbinding and related literature, especially early 20th century German, and translated Ernst Collin's Pressbengel in English as The Bone Folder, published 2017 in a fine press edition by the Boss Dog Press.