Rare Books Digest occasionally hosts opinions and views of international book trade professionals such as this week’s contributor, book restorer, Alexandros Deligiorgis Bibliodesia in Greece (http://www.facebook.com/bibliodesia).
To my mind, book restoring should not be considered an ordinary job, just a means of livelihood and nothing more than that. It serves our cultural heritage. In Greece, the old, rare and antiquarian books are not considered national treasures yet. They don’t rank as high as ancient amphorae, statues, or byzantine icons. Of course, values fluctuate, since these objects fall into various categories and some of them are truly unique, while books were produced according to the rule of mass market.
When it comes to book restoring, there are many aspects to be taken into account. The collectors in Greece are “qualified” to appreciate the rarity of a book, although their collections are limited by their local interest. The most common fields are the Greek classics and the books about travels in Greece. On the other hand, specialists are not yet used to looking for the adequate book restoring professional, the one able to use proper materials and employ time honored techniques.
It is believed that any bookbinder can take care of an antiquarian book. Of course, there are qualified book restorers, but they are mostly occupied by museums, monasteries or large libraries. It can be said that the book restorer is a “dark” figure, hidden inside well guarded rooms. So, if the cost of professional book restoring is taken into account too, it is well understood why under qualified professionals are falsely considered book restorers. I have nothing against bookbinders, since I am part of the lot. The problem is the different degree of care needed by a rare book. These books form a totally separate category, as a lot has to be done in order for them to survive. When restoring a rare antiquarian book, all materials used must resemble the ones used when the book was produced, in order to actually restore it and not simply make a new bookbinding. Special studies are needed about the history and the technique of its production in order to determine a suitable binding.
Modern bookbinding in Greece has a history, dating from the second half of the 17th century. The type of sewing is called “grecaggio”, the headbands are prefabricated or made “in loco” with the use of a piece of cloth. The binding decoration elements were established in the 19th and 20th centuries. We can determine the fashion that prevailed during the 20th centuries by studying the materials used. Black leather combined with cloth, or paper and leather, formed a classic binding, common between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. Now this combination remains as a law book standard binding. Later, the green and red leather became the norm. Nowadays, book lovers return to the natural color of the leather, or the various shades of brown. It should be added that in Greece most people choose a classic, traditional binding for the books. Modern patterns and designs are made mostly for books exhibited in shows and fairs.