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Rare Book Repair: The Oscar Edition


Many factors are considered before defining a book as "rare." The Archives and Rare Books Library at the University of Cincinnati believes the standards used today are more or less the same as the standards literary historian and bibliophile Johann Vogt recorded over 250 years ago: there are few absolutes when it comes to deciding which books are rare. Age is a major factor, and books connected to a famous person or event might also be considered rare if conditions are right. Much has to do with the desirability, and books connected to a prestigious award like the Academy Awards rate high in the desirability category.

Through the years several Oscar-winning movies have been adapted from novels. The film "Ben Hur" won 11 Oscars and was based on the novel Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. The book was published in 1880 and became a best seller in the U.S. almost immediately after publication. Out of Africa. and Gone with the Wind. are novels from the same era that were both adapted into award-winning films. Out of Africa, written by Isak Dinesen was published in 1938, and Gone with the Wind published in 1936 was written by Margaret Mitchell. All of these books are old and desirable, but does that make them rare? It might.

A first-edition Oscar book might certainly be considered rare, especially if it has signatures by or documented connection to the writer or actors in the film. Rare Oscar books don't have to be in perfect condition to be valuable. If the book is highly desired by collectors, even major damage is worth repairing.

Rare Book Repair

So, you're the proud owner of a collectible copy of The Lord of the Rings, Forest Gump or The Bridge Over River Kwai, but your volume has a few ripped pages and a broken binding. Don't despair, repair! By that we don't mean you should get out the glue, but most common repairs can be made right by an experienced restorer.


Leather covers can be refinished, restoring their color and luster. Cloth covers can be cleaned with waterless methods and in some cases cloth can be recolored. The point in restoring a cover is not to make the book look new again, but to make it look attractive for its age and to stop any further erosion that dirt and oils might cause.

If a cover has severe damage, rot or water staining, a restorer can treat the material to prevent further damage and improve the overall appearance of the book.


When books break loose from their binding, pages can fall out and get lost, and a lost page is damage that can't be repaired. Simply gluing the book back together is tempting, but bindings are more complicated than they seem. A professional restorer can repair the binding through a multi-step process that includes sanding down the cover board, gluing the spine, affixing special tissue paper from the free fly to the cover board, repairing the hinge and finally recoloring/refinishing the cover. Definitely not a job for the inexperienced.


Torn pages are the one repair you can attempt at home even if you don't know anything about book conservation. A type of heat-set tissue made by the Library of Congress is available through a number of online outlets or ask a book restorer if she has some available. The paper is treated with a type of resin that's released from the heat of an iron. You can tear the paper into any shape or size and bond it to the page with a Teflon iron. If you do decide to try this repair yourself, practice on an inexpensive paperback before attempting it on your signed copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest