This is how a conservator examines a book, explained Jim Hinz, Director of Book Conservation at the
for Art and Historic Artifacts. There are three steps: Conservation Center
1. The Cover: What’s it made of? How’s it holding up? Is it clean or dirty?
2. The Sewing: How were the pages sewn together and how is the sewing holding up? Anything detached?
3. The Text Block: What’s the paper and what’s the media? (Wood pulp paper and common black printing ink in the case of my books.) Does the paper retain flexibility or is it becoming brittle? Are there other problems like tears, distortions, or surface dirt?
Considering the cheapness of their original production, the family books that I brought in for Jim to examine are in pretty good shape. There’s some surface grime on their covers and minor losses on the slightly battered corners. The spine linings were insufficient from the start, resulting in detached spines in the cloth layer on two of the books. The pages are discolored but have not reached a point of severe brittleness yet (it’s just a matter of time with this highly acidic paper though...).
Of course I feel invested in my family books, so it's good to hear that--all things considered--they're in okay shape for typical books published during the greatest age (1850-1950) of bad bookmaking the world has ever seen.
© 2010 Lee Price