BookThink's Bookselling Hack #2

by Craig Stark

14 March 2015

Repairing Spine Roll

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All of us have seen this:

Spine roll, or spine cocking, is seen more often in softcover books than hardcover - and perhaps most often in comic books. For collectors it's a moderately serious fault. To give you a feel for how serious, a rolled spine automatically reduces the comic book standard CGC grade, assuming no other issues, from 10.0 (Mint) to 4.0 (Very Good). In comic books this is usually caused by folding back "pages" as they are read; in softcover books the cause is typically the same, but sometimes it's the result of opening a book flat on a table and pressing down on the text block near and along the gutter as each leaf is turned so as to force the book to lay open some. And this applies to hardcovers as well.

Happily, assuming the binding is sewn, this is a fairly straightforward fix - and it can be accomplished by repeating the same actions that caused it but in the opposite direction. Simply turn the book upside down and press down gently along the gutter as each leaf is turned. Usually one trip through the book will do, but if not, repeat. The result will look like this:

Due to the fragility of stapled or perfect bindings, this hack can be trickier. Proceed with caution - or leave well enough alone.

Fine and dandy, right? Sort of. The above book definitely looks better, but there is another issue. Any book that's been deformed to the extent this one was has undergone some pretty significant stress to the binding. The issue of tightness therefore comes into play, that is, describing the book as tight without qualification no longer applies, though moderately tight may.

It's useful, I think, to indicate degrees of tightness in descriptions; it's a good indication of how often a book has been read and/or whether or not it was mis-handled during reading. One classic test to evaluate tightness is to place a book on its spine, hold the covers open at a 45-degree angle to the table with your little fingers and the text block at 90 degrees with your thumbs and forefingers - and let go. If the book closes completely when it falls, it's tight. If the book closes and the cover doesn't, it's less so. If the text block fans, it's less tight yet, and if it falls and lays flat, the binding is appropriately described as loose. Obviously this test isn't foolproof. Different weights and sizes of books or binding methods may affect outcomes. At worst, one can always get a feel for tightness simply by handing a book.

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