Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hey, Rare Book Guy: What About Dust Jacket Restoration?

by Stephen J. Gertz

Hey, Rare Book Guy:

I have an old Hardy Boys book. The dust jacket is torn and has pieces missing. Should I have it repaired? How is it done?

- Chip in Milwaukee

Dear Chip: 

You're pulling my leg, right? Chip? As in dust jacket with chips? It could have been worse: Chip on my shoulder, in which case I forget the Chips Ahoy!™ crack, leave Nabiscoworld, shut my mouth, and get on with it.

Okay. How did this wreck of a dust jacket:

Become this attractive dust jacket?

During the 1990s, when restoration of dust jackets reached a high art, it soon became a controversial subject for rare book dealers and collectors.  Good thing or bad thing?

The community of book collectors, as usual, had the final word. No good. A book with its dust jacket present will always bring a premium. But a book with a restored dust jacket will fetch less than the same book with an unrestored jacket. "Untouched" remains the standard, whether binding or jacket. The less monkeyed with the better.

One reason why the community has put the hex on restored dust jackets is simply because DJ restoration has become so fine that it is often extremely difficult to tell if work has been done. When the dust jacket to a highly desirable and expensive first edition is rarer than the book itself, i.e. The Great Gatsby, and its presence increases the value of the book tenfold, the temptation to get clandestinely creative is high.

As long as the dust jacket is clearly identified as restored, no problem. But books with restored DJs and unidentified as such by the unscrupulous are floating around the marketplace and dealers and collectors have to pay special attention.

As always, remove the dust jacket from it's mylar sleeve (i.e. Bro-Dart™). Examine its backside. Tape repairs are obvious. Paper fill-ins can usually been seen upon very close examination, as will tissue to close tears. But not always. Black light the dust jacket and most all restoration work will be revealed; black light loves adhesives and can spot them a mile away.

In expert hands, the inking of lettering and color fill-in to rubbed spots is near impossible to discern. Sometimes, the inks and paint will bleed through to the rear and be obvious but, again, they may not. Black light may reveal the work.

For the average rare book with dust jacket in dishabille, the rule remains the same:  do nothing beyond getting that DJ into an archival-grade mylar sleeve to preserve what remains and prevent further damage. Do not be tempted to amateur repairs. The market has spoken, and the verdict  is, As Is.

Go here to view a step-by-step demonstration in still photographs of how the dust jacket above was restored.

Facsimile dust jackets have also become an issue but are fairly easy to distinguish from the real thing. Their paper is commonly of a lighter weight, and examination with a magnifying glass will reveal the dot-matrix of a digital printer. As facsimile DJs are not relic'd, a brand spanking new DJ on an old book will be as obvious as a facelift on a unreconstructed seventy-five year old body. There's an excellent article on how to identify facsimile dust jackets here.

Whether restored or facsimile, no crime has  been committed as long as the dust jacket is clearly identified by the seller. Repaired or facsimile dust jackets will definitely increase the attractiveness of the book. But restoration does absolutely nothing to increase the value of a book. Restoration of any kind to a rare book lowers its market value.

Hope this has helped.

Say, you wouldn't happen to be related to "Chip"  of My Three Sons, would you?

"Chip" to lower right corner, not affecting text. Portrayed by Stanley Livingston.


Dust jacket images courtesy of paper restoration studio, Poster Mountain, with out thanks.


  1. Dear RBG:
    I take only one issue with your jeremiad vs. the restoration of book jackets. I agree with everything you say about *restoration*, but I don't think there's any problem with getting a professional (archival) *repair* done, if the only intent of that repair is to simply make the thing hold together a little better. In other words, if a jacket is nearly (or completely) separated along a fold, I think it's highly preferable to have it repaired rather than to rely only on a Brodart to keep it together. Please understand: I am talking *repair* only, not ANY form of restoration (no replacement of lost paper, filling in color, or anything like that). And of course the repair itself has to meet the strictest archival/conservation standards, i.e. to be invisible and reversable. It also goes without saying (and yet I'll say it) that any such repair should be fully disclosed by the seller of the book to any prospective buyer. What say ye?

  2. My only issue with your comment, Anon., is the characterization of the piece as a jeremiad, "a bitter lamentation." It may be many things but a bitter lament? No, sir. Perhaps you meant "rant." No on that score, too.

    There is certainly nothing wrong with having small repairs professionally rendered. But the DJ repair will add nothing to the value of the book; it will rather, as I discussed, decrease it.

    Thank you for stopping by and expressing your thoughts. It is appreciated.

  3. Speaking as the person who actually restored the Houdini dust jacket featured in your blog. I would like to mention that fighting fraud is one of our greatest concerns. This is why we document everything we restore and publish the before and after photo's on our database, also the owner of this particular book is a Houdini historian and will not be selling it. He had this done for himself only and kindly agreed to allow us to post the project on our blog. One other aspect of this particular restoration is that we made no effort to conceal the structural repairs from the back and that all the restoration that was performed is very easily removed with water.

  4. We at believe that the dust cover is an important factor that determines the value of a first edition rare book. Read this article and you will be convinced.

  5. Hello to RBG from Israel
    I have a cafe? stained paperback of U.Eco, on its upper pageedge. It's not a naturally worn copy which I understand from your article to leave it as it is.Someone spilled it.Should I also leave it untouched or for a nicer looking to give it a professional repair? The stain decreases the price anyhow.
    Thank you very much

  6. Paperbacks are judged very harshly when it comes to condition. Leave it as is and try to find another copy in better condition.

    1. Hello RBG
      This paperback is an uncorrected proof and is SIGNED by Umberto Eco whom I had met personally. I have been looking for about 4 years for another copy but in vain, and it would be of course unsigned. Is your kind answer above still valid?
      Thank you very much

  7. Hello dear RBG
    First thanks a lot for your kind replies. They desrve to be collected into a manual book for collectors.
    I have a 1961 dustjacket of U.Eco out-of-print & rare book, his first collaborated copy in Italian, which is unfortunately already REPAIRED by the previous owner with many ugly cellotape adhesives. I wish them to be removed and bring it back to its original though torn edges. Would it worth to do that for the preservation of its value? Or I should leave it as is, as removing the tapes is also a kind of intervening restoration.I simply don't know what is best to do.
    Thank you so much

  8. Hello RBG
    A shrinkwrapped book - to remove it as to not causing any extra damage to the dj (like sticking to it after a while) or to leave it with for the shining new like appearance?
    Thank you.

  9. Remove it, and put the dj into a Bro-Dart to preserve and protect it.


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