Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Christmas 2009 books

Here’s the Christmas 2009 group, clockwise from the back: (1) An Ernest Nister reproduction “picture wheel” Christmas book—the wheels had been accidentally glued into place and the tabs torn off; (2) Robert Sabuda’s Alice in Wonderland; (3) The Iris Book; (4) a children’s storybook, A Dozen and One: The Boys and girls of Polly’s Ring; (5) A Christmas book of magazine articles from 1884, including several by Louisa May Alcott and other well-known children’s authors of the late-nineteenth century, that had lost its back cover in its 125-year journey; and (5) Austin Burnham’s subscription book for a Civil War History, complete with handwritten subscribers’ lists indicating whether they wanted clothbound or leather.

The Civil War History was a disaster—pages were moldy and crumbling along the gutter about 50 pp deep; the tissue guards for the beautiful engravings had browned; the cover was moldy. Although dear Harry had given it to me expecting to pay for a restoration, there was no way, in my mind. First, I’d normally not even touch it; frankly, its deterioration went way beyond my ability to do a thorough restoration job. Secondly, even if a conservator were to attempt it, the cost would probably run more than $1000. So I did it for love, not money, which involved much washing of pages and covers, and muttering, and brushing-out of pages outdoors while wearing a mask.

Oh, right, I said “enjoyable.” Well, I love to imagine the stories behind these books. I picture Austin Burnham as a Civil War veteran, perhaps wounded in action, going door-to-door selling subscriptions to earn a living after the war. I did find online an Austin Burnham buried in a New England cemetery who was a Civil War Veteran. The subscriptions, however, all came from Pennsylvania towns and the sample pages were printed not only in English, but also in German using a black-letter typeface. Somehow the book appealed to me emotionally and against my better judgment I tackled it. It’s not perfect but Harry can leaf through it now without endangering his health or having it disintegrate in his hands.

The Sabuda pop-up books are simply marvels of paper engineering, marred only by the publisher’s unwise decision to use merely the cover paper as hinges. Of course the joints tore, rendering the book unsaleable. That’s how it ended up in a remainder pile at Wonder Book. I bought a bunch of them, mended them with mull and reinforced the outer joints with black cloth bookbinding tape (which matched the black-outlined cover illustrations), and gave many as Christmas gifts. They appeal to all ages and both genders. A multiply-pierced young man bought one for his girlfriend who collects Alice in Wonderland, and his delight in the book was as enthusiastic as that of my young nieces—and their parents—when they opened them Christmas weekend at Grandma’s.

Every book needing repair has its own story in addition to its text, sometimes known and sometimes imagined.

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