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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Civil War diaries

On some level I don’t really think what I do is about books and paper.

To me it’s really about history and culture and people. I’m repairing books, of course, but they’re just the object that gets to the real point. 

And that is what I find exciting, fun, and challenging. How to keep a story alive for another 150 years or more.  How to better preserve a family history to show family members in the future what their great-great-grandmother was like. How did she live? What did she enjoy? Who was she? Look through an old family cookbook and you’ll find answers to all those questions.

In honor of the 4th I wanted to share this project:

Some time ago a gentlemen brought in two Civil War diaries. They were from the same soldier. The story is that the soldier kept up two diaries because he didn’t think he was going to survive the war. He could send home the larger sheets as he finished them and kept the smaller one in his pack. He assumed he would be killed and the smaller one would be lost.

I can’t imagine.

The smaller one no longer had a cover. Or end sheets. So there was no way to know what the original binding was, or how it looked. They came like this:





The first thing I did was to repair all the pages in the smaller diary and then sewed it back together. For the covering material I used airplane linen. I liked the look of linen as a cover for this and thought it fit the spirit of the book.




In the end it became a book again. The advantage of a binding, versus loose pages, is that it protects the pages of the book by covering them because it is easier to leaf through pages when they are bound versus when they are a pile of loose sheets.





For the larger diary I encapsulated the pages in mylar. Well, not really mylar because mylar doesn’t exist any more but let’s just call it that because I’m getting older and it’s a hard habit to let go of.  

The pages are not laminated! Lamination involves attaching the pages to a plastic. It certainly protects the item you are laminating but it also destroys it at the same time because it can be extremely difficult to remove the lamination. 

The work I do is all about reversibility! In a few hundred years, someone should be able to take apart a book I’ve repaired without causing any harm to it. This goal is not totally attainable, of course, but I think we get pretty close.

These pages are floating between two sheets of an inert polyester using a 3M double sided tape. No tape is touching the pages and they can be removed from their housings in seconds.









In the end I made a box to hold both items. The rebound, smaller diary went into an opening in the box, which left a shelf for the larger pages.













The box was a drop spine box. Sadly I don’t think customers really appreciate how important a drop spine box can be in preserving books and papers. When I offer it I get the sense that some think I’ve turned into a used car salesman, which is unfortunate. Or sad. The are many, many stories of items in these boxes being protected during fires or water incidents, let alone the general protection from sunlight, dust, and other nefarious things waiting to descend on books and papers.

Maybe if I could create a meme it would help with the acceptance and advancement of drop spine boxes among the general populace. But I’m not really sure what a meme is, so that’s a bit of a sticking point with that idea.

I tell folks that every book they care about should be in a box. And I believe it. I’m grateful that I’ve taught enough classes in drop spine boxes that I’m pretty much there myself. Otherwise I’m afraid it’d be like the cobbler’s kids having no shoes.






It’s a privilege and a thrill to work on objects like these. I wrote a post earlier that said that I feel like I’m working for the grandchildren of my clients rather than the clients themselves, which helps me make better decisions.

But in this case I think I’m working for the soldier who wrote these, who was the great grandfather of my client. I’m sure he would be happy to see his record preserved.

Happy 4th of July.












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