As a professional bookbinder, I am often asked the question, "Is my book worth fixing?" I could say, "Sure it is." But, being an honest guy, I answer that books have no intrinsic value. The estimated value of a book is based on the amount that a potential buyer is willing to pay.
There are many factors in determining who is willing to pay how much for what book. Books on California history will stir little interest in Delaware and conversely, a set of "The History of Delaware" by Thomas Scharf (very collectible) might go unsold in California. A collector of military books probably wouldn't give a second glance to a first edition "Fanny Farmer Cookbook" (also very collectible). As you've gathered by now, the examples are myriad. The key word is desirability. So, if you feel a book is worth fixing, have it fixed. If not, then don't.
There is, however another point to consider; posterity. Very few antiques would exist if someone hadn't taken care to keep them in good shape or restore them.
Some types of books have wider appeal than others. The first type that comes to mind is children's books. They hold an appeal for most book lovers because most of them were children at one time or another and so established an interest early on. Another attractive feature of children's books is that they are often illustrated by famous artists and illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, and Kate Greenaway.
As a rule, children abuse the books in their possession; so a children's book in good condition is a relative rarity. Therefore, if you own an old children's book that has all its pages, is not heavily crayoned and doesn't have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich pressed between its pages, it may be worth holding on to. It will be valuable someday, if it isn't already.
Book collections reflect various tastes. Some folks collect only first edition, others, only books signed by the author. There are collectors who care nothing for a book's content but are only interested in a unique binding. And still others who's sole interest is in books on the subject of book collecting. Book collections are as varied as their owners.
Regrettably, there are books that excite no one's desire to acquire them. The best hope for books in this catagory is recycling. Because of their blandness, they are discarded by the thousand. Their only contribution is to the total tonnage of our landfills. A few of those insipid non-collectables will escape the fate of their fellow volumes and, ironically, become collector's items simply because of their rarity.
Another often asked question is, "Does rebinding make a rare book less valuable?" The answer to that is, of necessity, as ambiguous as that of the first question. At the outset, we must determine the quality of the work being done. If it is a poor job or even an average "library binding" the answer will always be an unequivocal and emphatic "Yes! It will reduce the value of your book." But, if the work is high quality and in keeping with the style of the original binding, it usually adds to the value of the volume in question. Poor condition is always detrimental to a sale. Several factors need to be considered in order to determine if a book should be rebound. If the binding itself is the thing of value, replacing it would naturally detract from its value. If the binding is missing entirely, then a new one can only be an asset. Restoration of the original binding is always the most desirable and at the same time, most expensive avenue to take. A proper restoration will retain ninety percent, or more, of the original binding and therefore add considerably to a book's value. A replica binding is often the most practical. A skilled bookbinder can often create a binding that will pass for the original, even to the trained eye. No attempt, however, should be made to "pass it off" as the original. And, a record of treatment should accompany the books to show those interested, what work has been done.
It must be noted that it is not unusual for the price of binding, whether it be restoration or just repair, to exceed the relative value of the book. However, a first quality job may more than pay for itself, just as repairs to a home or automobile tend to bring a good return on the investment.
This piece is under copyright and may not be used in whole or in part without the expressed permission of its author.
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