The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Restoring the Encyclopedia Britannica

I was lucky to find a copy of the 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica recently. I've wanted one for a while. The 11th was the first time the encyclopedia was issued all at one time and it contains entries by notable scholars including; Thomas DeQuincey, Bertrand Russell, Swinburne, John Muir, T. H. Huxley and many more. You can access the full text of the encyclopedia here, but I'm a book fetishist and need the real thing.

The leather on the small "Handy" bindings was in decent shape. Mostly intact but dry and in need of attention so I thought I would take some photos and describe the restoration process.

First gently wipe the dust from the boards and the edges of text block. You can use a soft cotton cloth, but I use a rubber sponge that works like a magnet on dust/mildew and doesn't let anything back out. Be careful not to rub the dirt INTO the surface and it's probably better to blow or use a soft brush to remove dust from the edge of the text block.


(If the leather itself is powdery, don't try to wipe it all away. We'll take care of that in a later step.)

Next inspect the edges of the boards, and the hinges and look for any largish pieces of flaking leather. Use a very small amount of paste, or book-binding adhesive, (paste is reversible and the more archival but takes longer to set) and stick these back down.


Now let the book dry for at least a few hours (overnight is better).

Next, to treat the powdery leather (also called "red rot"), use a product called Cellugel.


Cellugel is a "consolidant" and will prevent any further material loss and make the leather more supple. I recommend using this product with decent ventilation. I don't think it's toxic (and it drys/evaporates quickly) but the alcohol-like fumes can be a little overwhelming. Apply liberally and gently rub the product in. Make sure to get all of the visible leather, especially the edges which have taken the most stress.


Use paper towels, and change frequently. Avoid getting any Cellugel on the endpapers or text block (protect the text with wax paper if you feel the need).

Again let the book dry (overnight if possible)

For the final step use a product called Renaissance Wax (a micro-crystalline wax). Buff the book like a '59 Camaro and let dry.

Now repeat 34 times.

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