Book Presses for Book Collectors. . . .


I swear Jill has an eagle-eye sort of super power to spot a book press a mile away in the deepest darkest corner of any antique shop we wander.  We've lucked out and have found all but one of our book presses at antique shops for a fair to low price; way better than what we see on eBay or even online auctions.  When you're out and about in antique shops, keep an eye out for those little cast iron beauties.  Book presses aren't just for book binders.  If you're a serious book collector building a library or a book seller it would be a good idea to have one or two small book presses in your office or shop.    


How do I know if the book press I found is usable?  There are certain areas of a book press you should examine real quick before buying:  First, are the uprights firmly attached to the base?  And if not, will simply tightening a bolt be enough to fix the problem?  Second, does the wheel or handle freely spin? (If it is stiff but the screw looks to be in good shape, it may only need an application of grease to make it function smoothly.)  Third, is the platen (top plate that moves up and down) well attached to the vertical screw?  Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, is there any corrosion to the base plate or the underside of the platen? (If these are in fairly good shape with some small defects the press can still be used by adding pieces of MDF board, and never allowing the damaged metal to come in contact with the book.)  


Now that I've found a good book press, how do I know I'm using it correctly?  There are few circumstances a collector will find having a book press to be very useful.  For instance, when a collector has purchased a "new" book, particularly if that book comes to him from an area with a very different climate, it can be good to allow the book to become acclimatized to its new home under light pressure in the press for a week or two.  While it would be optimal for every library or book shop to maintain perfect temperature and humidity, that is unrealistic and so you'll see books adjust or change between seasonal changes.  Sometime vellum will buckle with the slightest change in temperature and humidity, and while leather bindings need to breathe, they can also display signs of cockling, and these circumstances also would be remedied with a small book press.  If you do leave your book in the press for a long period of time (longer than a week), make sure to take the book out occasionally to ensure additional damage isn't happening.     

Applying pressure:  Pay close attention to pressure!  The book should be placed squarely centered in the press and the platen should be lowered until it presses firmly on the book, but you should not have to crank the wheel or handles.  It is better to use lighter pressure over longer periods of time than heavier pressure for less time. If you can see the spine of the book buckling, you have applied too much pressure.  If your particular book has a very wide spine, with shoulders that protrude above the level of the boards (cover), sandwich the book between two pieces of MDF with the edges of the MDF coming up to, but not over the protruding shoulders before placing the book sandwich in the press (see above photo for example).      

(*If your book shows more damage than simple warping or cockling brought on by temperature and humidity changes, seek advise from a practicing rare book conservationist to discuss possible and proper repair and restoration.)


A collector or book seller generally won't need to worry about what is called "daylight" in book presses, unless their books are extremely thick and over sized.  Daylight is the maximum distance between the platen and the press bed when it is fully opened.  You can use other book weights for over sized books to avoid purchasing expensive large book presses with a lot of daylight. When shopping for your book press 3" of daylight is sufficient for most needs.  

You may notice book binders and restorers have multiple book presses with varied amounts of daylight.  Book binders need these kinds of presses simply due to production purposes.  A lot of daylight allows the binder to place multiple books in the press at once.  

Something to note about small book presses:  Nipping Press vs.  Letter-press.  What are commonly called book presses are technically termed nipping presses.  In a nipping press all the vertical pressure is applied by the turning of a screw.  Many people substitute letter-presses for nipping presses.  These letter-presses are also known as copying presses, as they were once very common in 19th Century business offices and can sometimes be easier to find.  The letter-press uses the vertical screw to set the platen (top plate) to a desired height, and then a lever is engaged to apply the actual pressure (reference definition HERE).  A general Google search for a "copy press" can be frustrating, as there is a common held belief, even among the book trade, that small book presses were all actually copy presses.  A true copy press or letter-press will always have a lever.  Letter-presses can be effectively used by collectors, but care must be taken when engaging the lever not to inadvertently apply far more pressure than is needed.  

A word is here needed about linen presses.  Book presses are almost exclusively made of cast iron.  Large wooden presses are actually linen presses.  These presses are common as statement pieces in the decor of book shops and collector libraries, as they are stunningly beautiful, but they were designed to flatten on polish linen fabric (see more about linen presses HERE).


If you don't want to search antique shops, eBay, or deal with auctions to find a book press for your library or book shop we recommend purchasing one from Bindery Tools, LLC (link HERE).  The presses listed there between $260 - $500 are a perfect size for the avid book collector and antiquarian book seller.  Also, even if you never use it, wouldn't a book press look great in your library or shop!  Yes!  The answer is yes!    

General info for your library or shop:  An optimal environment for collectible books, ephemera, and fine art is a controlled environment.  Temperature should be kept between 68 - 72 degrees.  Humidity should be kept between 30% - 50%.   Check out our article about proper care of leather books HERE.   Additionally check out our article about how to condition your leather bindings HERE.  


There is Value in the Details: An educational newsletter for booksellers & collectors!


As conservators who have the pleasure of working with both booksellers and collectors, we often have an opportunity to add to the value of a rare book based on its print history, or binding style. Sadly, there have been times we've had to inform a client their book isn't as valuable as they thought based on those same details; print history or binding style. There truly is value in knowing simple details such as what year a specific font was invented, or different illustration styles (such as engravings, etchings, relief prints, etc.), tooling patterns, and types of leather used on a binding. 

With this monthly newsletter and quarterly webinars, we aim to bridge gaps in the details of historical bindings and printing, stream line information with helpful but simple white papers (cheat sheets), and broaden all of our knowledge base in the wide field of book collecting. Everyone should be able to pick up a book and know how old it is because of the binding style and materials used in the binding.  

We'll of course also discuss restoration and conservation trends of the past and present, how to identify specific damage, and if or how restoration can change the value of your books.  

Be sure to sign up below to recieve our monthly newsletter and get news about webinars! 

Book History: Wraps Before Publisher Bindings.


Before publishers bound their publications, printers would do a simple preliminary stitch keeping the signatures together, and then cover the text block in wraps.  When someone purchased a book from the printer they'd take it to their book binder to properly sew the text block and cover it, if they could afford to do so. Most books printed but not bound didn't last; it's special to find a rare book with its original wrappers nowadays.

This is an example of a printed pamphlet from 1835 that would have had wraps; instead of binding the pamphlet my client decided to have me make and add period appropriate wraps in keeping with the history of this little book. I then made a protective clamshell to house this special book.

Collect. Conserve. Restore. Become part of the history. 

A Month For Buying Books: NY Antiquarian Book Fair & Auctions!

We think every month is a great month for buying books, but April is a bit special simply because it's Spring, and because the New York Antiquarian Book Show is happening, and many auctions are selling fantastic books and manuscripts as well as antique collectables.  

Mark your calendars, book collectors!  Use the links we've listed below to look into each auction and find your treasure!  

April 7-10 - New York Antiquarian Book Fair.


April 5-6 & more throughout April - Sotheby's.  

April 6 - Heritage Auctions.  Heritage also has weakly internet auctions.  

April 7 & 21 - PBA Galleries.  

April 11 - Bonhams.  

April 12 - Swann Auction Galleries.   

April 14 - Antiquarian Auctions.

April 21 - Dreweatts Bloomsbury

If auctions aren't your thing, rare booksellers will take care of you!  Search The Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America for a booksellers by state.  You can also search for booksellers near you through The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, and checkout The Independent Online Booksellers Association.   

For more links to awesome online resources about books and buying books make sure to checkout our Resources & Links page!

Happy Book Buying!

Collect. Conserve. Restore. Become Part of the History.

As conservationists we have a lot of conversations with our different clients on how to balance conservation and restoration for rare books and ephemera.  While we were educated in institutions regarding conservation and restoration, our experience with a wide variety of clientele has shown us that institutional guidelines are limited by the structure and motivations of the institutions that have created them.  Lines become blurred because the only lines that are publicly available are those published by institutions, and while these rules are perfect for them, that doesn't mean they're useful for individual collectors.  Best practices are constant, however the balance between conservation and restoration shifts depending on the motivation of the collector.  When you think about what drives an individual to collecting and how personal that motivation is, how can private collectors really be expected to adhere to institutional guidelines anyway?  The current philosophy for institutions is to preserve the object without leaving the fingerprint of the current owner, archiving them rather than restoring them.  

Book collecting is different than archiving:  As books leave their marks on the collectors, the collectors leave their marks on the books, for good or for ill.  There is no such thing as standing still; even without human handling books are in a constant state of deterioration.  As a collector you can choose to archive your books or preserve them and become part of their history.  A book tells its history in its structure.  Leaving your mark on the book in a greater or lesser degree will establish provenance, which will be important to future collectors.  Wherever you fall on the spectrum between conservation and restoration, what you do for books is important.  It is impossible to come into contact with a book, whether as an archivist or a private collector, without leaving a bit of yourself behind.  It can be a simple as the choices of which books to gather together, or as intense as completely rebuilding a book.  You're now part of the book's history.  

Have you thought about where you fit into the larger world of book preservation?  What do you want people in the future to know about you and your interaction with your books? We would love to continue this conversation with you:  Comment below.  

We want to see what books you're collecting, conserving, restoring, reading, and making a part of your life.  Post your finds on Instagram and tag them with  #BecomePartoftheHistory; we'd love to feature your treasures on our feed too.