Reviving old Books

Brian W. Webster

I recently came into possession of a book – “Fathers and Sons” by Turgenev in 1867 – in not very good condition. I have been experimenting with a product called “Absorene”, originally used for house cleaning but also excellent on books. With caution I tried it with this volume, which was pretty grubby although the interior was in great shape.
You take a lump of this stuff and squeeze it in your hand for a little until it is malleable. It feels like putty. Wiping on ONE direction it amazed me on how it changed the book, It took up the dirt and grime of years and left a semi-glossy finish. It does not make any changes but revives the original. On the spine (which had been unreadable) I found that the green cloth binding had a black panel with gold lettering. Really effective. You can buy it at Hardware or Art Supply stores.
By the way, if anyone has any information on the book I would appreciate an email. I cannot find it anywhere and the Publisher disappeared in 1902.
The cheapest way I have found for cleaning books is Alcohol and a paper towel. Not only does it clean the shiny areas but also loosens and lifts labels that you don’t want. Just a little on the area and it softens the label and also the adhesive they use. If you use alcohol on the boards and that are matte finished dab a little alcohol on a paper towel and check to see there is no color lifted off the book and onto the towel. If there is STOP immediately. The stain on the towel tells you it is taking the dye off the area. I also tried Alcohol on hanwritten names in ink and qiue often that works. I found an almost new book with a good wrapper, value $35.00, and was about to shelve it when I noticed that some one had copied the name of the book in ink on the spine. Horrors! But a paper towel and Alcohol it disapeared without a trace!
We also use an item called “Simple Green” whose makers advise that you can dilute the stuff with water. Well I hate the thought of water and books so we use “Simple Green” undiluted and get excellent results.
If you have a book that has gilt edges and the gold has been worn off there is a simple solution. When I was in the etching business we often found clients that demanded gold lettering on some of the etched areas – especially black marble. Our first attempt was a failure and we ended up by using paint.
But just recently my wife came up with some of our supplies of the failure we had used – “Rub & Buff” – and was about to throw it away when she had an idea. “Rub & Buff” is a wax based product and comes if different colors, including gold – several varities too. She took some and used it on the edges of an old book we were about to dispose of. Terrific. It replaced the old gold and looked superb. There is one drawback with this and that is the fact you have to apply using you fingers. I would suggest using those disposible gloves for this chore. I would not use this stuff on an expensive book tho’. I have know idea of the ethics or the rules for re finshing Rare or Collectibles. Another caution, do not get any of this stuff on anywhere on the book (other than the area you want) since nothing seems to get it off once it’s down.
We are always experimenting and out last try may be a winner for many Dealers.
Have writing, like name inside your book? Well we get rid of it by simply sandpapering it away. As long as the ink hasn’t been absorbed through the paper you can take fine sandpaper and erase it that way. It also works with crayon marks, but you must rub it lightly. Rub in one direction only and brush off the debris. Hard rubbing will go right through the paper. But NEVER do this on the inside cover of the book. This paper is very thin and if you use the sandpaper idea you will quickly see whatever is underneath.
On the topic of “brushing” I find that ownership of a denture brush very rewarding. Those annoying ridges along the spine, for example, collect dust. Denture brushes have strong but soft bristles and get into these crevices easily a d are cheap and easy to get.
Another tip is the “dust removing” cloths. I’ve only just got one impregnated with an anti static solution that really takes out the dirt. Look for it in the Supermarket.