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Another one for the books

December 17, 2009 | Category: Book collecting, Rare Books

Virtually every serious collector needs professional services of various kinds at various times: anything from insurance, appraisals, legal help (if ownership is in dispute) and tax advice to matters of consignment (when selling or auctioning items), authentication, conservation, repair and display.

You may even need a shrink to help you rein in your compulsive spending on your hobby – or a bankruptcy attorney if you’ve already gone to far.

I plan to address all of these aspects of collecting in future blogs on AmeriCollector.com – as well as the psychological mechanisms behind collecting, i.e., why the hell DO we love to collect, anyway – and why do we collect what we do? Why do some people – including some GUYS – collect dolls, while others are turned on by antique restraining devices, like handcuffs and balls and chains? Why are some women gaga for Gallé glass, others are willing to kill for the right Colonial sampler and still others are ready to rumble for a vintage Indian “Four” or a Harley “Flathead”?

But I digress. Right now I won’t address the whys but a “what” and a “who.”

The “what” is book restoration and repair, custom binding and related products and services, like archival clamshell boxes for storing rare and/or delicate volumes, and blank journals, logs and albums bound by hand in leather, snakeskin, vellum and other materials.

The “who” is Joel Radcliffe, the master bookbinder, book artist and publisher behind ARS OBSCURA Bookbinding & Restoration, in Seattle.

Now, I have blogged on a fine bookbinder once before (see “Bound to please: Relief for book lovers,” Sept. 22, 2009). But bookbinders are a lot like plumbers: When you need one, you want one who’s REALLY GOOD and isn’t going to rip you off. And unless you know one already, you want somebody who comes recommended by a trusted friend.

(Incidentally, don’t think you have to be a Book Collector in capital letters to need a bookbinder. Is that your old family Bible, published in 1790 – with all your ancestors’ birth- and death dates going back that far written in – that you’ve been using as a doorstop, so that the covers are coming apart? Have you left Great-Great-Grandpappy’s Civil War diary lying on a chest in the attic where the mice and silverfish can nosh on it? Have you been passing around your signed first edition of “The Cat in the Hat” so much that Dr. Seuss wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pen if you asked him to autograph it today? Or how about having a well-loved tome or album repaired or rebound – or having a box made for it – as a holiday, birthday or anniversary gift for a loved one? Or are you a treasure-hunting bibliophile like me, who occasionally snaps up a prize really cheap just because it has a few condition issues? If any of these scenarios applies to you, a professional bookbinder can help.)

I asked Joel to repair an uncommon and usually pricey illustrated work I’d won cheaply on eBay because it had been knocked around some and the covers were detached; I just wanted some basic repairs so I could read it without it completely falling apart. Joel did an excellent job without charging me an arm and a leg – something like fifty bucks plus shipping, which I thought was very reasonable.

Keep in mind that every book, like every family, has its own issues, that repair costs will vary and that Joel – or any bookbinder – can only estimate those costs based on photos. The best thing to do is e-mail him with some good images and as much information as possible about you want done (there’s a useful questionnaire on his Web site that will help you do this) and see what he says. If you want to proceed, he’ll ask you to ship the book to him for a closer look.

ARS OBSCURA Bookbinding & Restoration is open by appointment only – small surprise, because Joel is in really high demand and therefore BUSY. For the same reason, he may not respond to your e-mail right away: Be patient. The fact that he’s so backlogged is an indication of his talent, but that may mean waiting a couple of months for your repairs to be completed or paying more to expedite them.

Learn more at www.arsobscurabookbinding.com or call (206) 340-8810.

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