The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 25, Number 5
Feb 2002

Carolyn Price Horton

Carolyn Horton, bookbinder and conservator, died peacefully at her New Jersey retirement home on October 21st at the age of 92. During her 50 years of practice, she played an important role in the development of the bookbinding and conservation field in this country, training and inspiring the young American and European binders who worked with her. An enthusiastic supporter of professional organizations, she joined the Guild of Book Workers on August 9th, 1954, where she was made an Honorary Member in 1992, and joined the American Institute of Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in the early 70's, where she was made an Honorary Member in 1982. After her retirement in 1984, her friends and colleagues honored her by establishing the Carolyn Horton Fund in AIC/FAIC for the professional development of book and paper conservators, which has provided support for the mid-career advancement of more than twenty young conservators.

By her own account, Carolyn first became interested in bookbinding when her high school English teacher in Easton, Pennsylvania suggested that she bind a story she had written and illustrated. Although she decided then that it was not something she could teach herself, her interest stayed with her and when she later found herself in Vienna with her first husband in 1929, she studied bookbinding at the Woman's Academy of Applied Art. When they returned to Philadelphia, she worked for 5 years with Albert Oldach, an established German binder. This period served as a valuable apprenticeship, although Oldach's assistant took every opportunity to hiss at her, "A viman's place is in the kitchen!" Subsequently, she became the binder/conservator at the American Philosophical Society where she worked on the Bache collection of Franklin, and also on the Philadelphia College of Physicians' collections, doing a great deal of "silking" of the manuscript material as well as book repair. Divorced, she supported herself and her sister throughout the depression. It was during this period that a professor's water damaged collection provided her first experience in the virtues of freezing wet materials, a treatment she advocated and championed until it finally gained wide-spread acceptance in the late 60's. In 1939, remarried to Donald Horton, she moved to New Haven where she was appointed the first book restorer at Yale University. Four years later after he had obtained his Ph.D. degree, they followed his work to Washington, New York, and Chicago, eventually returning to settle in New York in 1958.

In New York, she established "Carolyn Horton and Associates," a bindery/conservation studio in their brownstone home at 430 West 22nd Street. It started in one room on the first floor and gradually expanded to occupy three of the four floors. The 27 years in New York were busy ones. Regular Horton clients consisted of many of the large, prestigious institutions in New York, Washington and Chicago, as well as smaller favorites such as the Morton Arboretum and the Corning Glass Museum. Art dealers and private rare book collectors would show up, as well as the elite of New York, whose private collections she would often arrange to have cleaned and refurbished onsite. In 1962 she and her staff undertook the huge job of cleaning the 37,000 volumes of the Grolier Club's collection. In 1966 she was a part of the American group that went to Florence after the flood to help with the salvage operations, which she reported in "Saving the Libraries of Florence" in the Wilson Library Bulletin, June, 1967. Not long after that, in 1972, she salvaged and restored 600 flood-damaged rare books from the Corning Glass Museum. In 1967 she wrote for the Library Technology Program of the American Library Association, Cleaning and Preserving Bindings and Related Materials, a landmark book describing the proper basic care to conserve books and library materials.

The Horton Bindery during those years was staffed by an ever changing succession of European and in-house trained American binders, providing a rich mixture of English and continental binding traditions. What emerged, with Carolyn's insistence on openness, discussion and exchange of ideas, was a distinctive Horton approach. She was scornful of old binders who took their secrets to the grave. Based on a solid understanding of materials and techniques, the careful and individualized treatment of items became the hallmark of her work. She often commented that treating an old book was like dancing: you had to follow the lead of your partner. Conservation or restoration treatments were often justified by a favorite comment, "Well, it's an old book." In her mind, the patina of age that provided character and often included important bibliographic information was to be respected and preserved if at all possible, in contrast to the commonly accepted treatment of rebinding with new materials. Early on she appreciated the importance of documenting treatments and attached abbreviated treatment reports typed in 8 point in the back of her books. For these reasons, she is often considered to be the first, true, American book conservator, who made restoration and repair her primary focus.

In her private life, which she happily mixed with her professional life in lunches in the garden or parties in the parlor, she found time to raise two children, Chris and Lucy, and to foster a long and loving relationship with her husband Don. Together they shared an absorbing interest in their backyard garden in New York, and later in the natural world they found at their weekend camp in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. After she retired they moved in 1985 into a nearby Quaker retirement community in Medford Leas where for the last 15 years they have been well cared for and happy. It was a quiet end to a life full of warmth, interest, and accomplishment.

Her contributions to the field of book and paper conservation were many and on various levels. As a practical and pragmatic problem solver, she came up with many low budget, useful solutions that often still carry her name, such as the Horton Humidifier (the double garbage can humidifier), the Horton Press (a small, versatile, portable press), and the Horton Hinge (a hinging technique for reattaching boards). An inveterate saver, she amassed an impressive collection of salvaged old papers and historic marbled endpapers, available for completion work. Her most important contribution, however, may have been her example of openness, optimism, and generosity of spirit. For these characteristics in particular, Carolyn Horton is remembered by her colleagues, friends, and former associates with admiration and affection. Anyone who wishes to do so may remember her with a contribution to the Carolyn Horton Fund at AIC/FAIC.

Betsy Palmer Eldridge

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