BookThink's Bookseller Hack #1

by Craig Stark

2 February 2015

How to Repair Detached and/or Torn Paper Covers

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One of the first big buys I made years ago was a library belonging to a Professor of Spanish literature. No surprise, there were many Spanish language books, and many of these were decades-old trade softcovers published in Spain and various Latin American countries in Central and South America. Most of the text blocks were sewn, so they were pretty sound overall, but many of the covers were in various stages of disrepair. This isn't one of them, but it's a representative example of what I was often faced with:

Now, if the cover had simply detached from the text block intact, this would have presented a straightforward repair. What makes this somewhat tricky, however, is that the cover is also torn along the edge as well. I've tried various approaches to this. Previous to the hack I'm about to show you I would usually apply PVA glue to the inside of the spine panel and (with a toothpick) along both edges of the tear, then lay strips of archival Filmoplast across the spine to hold everything in place until it dried. I would then remove the strips by dipping a brush in a solvent and gently working it under them. This usually worked okay, but there were times when, no matter how much care I took, the tape damaged the surface of the paper - note, for example, the light colored circle in the upper right hand corner of this book, no doubt damage resulting from label removal - or the action of the brush and/or solvent opened up part of the repaired edge. Another issue, of course, was the solvent itself - something I would have preferred not to use at all.

A few years ago, a light went on. What if, instead of using tape, I applied the glue as above and simply shrink-wrapped the book? The shrink wrap would surely hold everything in place, snugly - in fact, better than the tape, and there would be even pressure applied over the entire repair. And no tape to remove!

I've used this method ever since, and it works beautifully for both reattaching intact covers as well as more complex repairs like this. Also, if any glue comes into contact with the shrink wrap, it won't stick to it. Here's a basic tutorial for shrink-wrapping books.

As for this repair, here's the book shrink wrapped:

And the final result:

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