We are often approached by people who have just bought or inherited a valuable old book in damaged condition. It may be a centuries-old leather first edition, a cloth-bound cookbook of the 1300's, or a paperbound children's book of the early l900's. The book needs to be fixed somehow, but they feel it would lose value (and it would certainly lose some of its charm) if it were given an entirely new cover. The owner feels a responsibility, and wants to know what the options are before he decides to submit his book for repair or rebinding. Our role at first is to clarify the choices involved and help him trace the implications of each.
First, we try to find out if he is concerned with the book's market value as a rare book. Some people know their book is rare or valuable because they just bought it and they know what they had to go through to get it; others have to go off to have it appraised by a rare book dealer, librarian, or rare book collector. If it turns out to be rare, they usually want the original cover restored, which is expensive ($50 up). If the price turns them off, we recommend a traycase or other protective container which can be shelved like a book and keeps out dust and polluted air.
As a rule of thumb in estimating the expense of rebinding an old book, you need to consider only three factors. If the paper is not fragile, if the original sewing is still good, and you don't want to save too much of the old cover, the cost will be low. If one of these three factors is unfavorable, the cost may be doubled; if two are unfavorable, it may be tripled; if all three are unfavorable, the sky is the limit.
Of course other factors influence cost, too. Leather adds $20-30. Large size, thickness, unusual format, pages that are different size or unnumbered, stiff paper, mildew, scotch tape, special orders, deadlines, detailed specifications, and so on, all complicate life for us and cost the customer more.
Many old books could well use the sort of time-consuming tender care that hobbyists give to their models and collections. When a particularly deserving book comes along that we could repair only at great expense because of the time it would absorb (rather than the expertise or special facilities it would call for) we sometimes recommend that the owner learn binding with us so he can do it himself. So far 8 or 10 customer have done this, either by taking lessons or by working here, and 5 or so of these are systematically accumulating tools and equipment so they can work at home as well as at the shop.