Eight essential tools for beginner book restoration

Eight Essential Supplies for Book Restoration

While not everyone may be comfortable attempting to restore their vintage books on their own, it’s a crucial motivating factor for me. I think it’s important to be able to restore my own collection, mostly because that also means I  am able to maintain them thereafter.

Hake brushes – Chinese hake brushes are my first step in cleaning all of my restoration projects. They remove dust and prep surfaces, and are also helpful tools for the maintenance and proper storage of your books.


Sticker and marker remover pen – This pen from Scotch is so simple to use and so effective. It removes marker and pen markings, as well as adhesive residue, from any books that may have been in a library or school collection at some point in their storied lives, and have stickers or other markings on their pages.

Acid-free binding glue – These supplies aren’t cheap, that’s for sure; since I buy all of my supplies at Brodart, I just settle for the company’s brand to save a couple dimes. This bind-art adhesive is safe for vintage books and other archival purposes, and remains flexible even after it’s dry.

Absorene putty – I’ll say it, this stuff is weird. But it also the most effective tool in this arsenal. You take a bit of putty, work into a soft and usable texture, and press it onto pages and covers to remove markings and residue. It works just like copying newsprint or pencil lead with silly putty, only now, you can throw it away before it becomes a gray blob and your mom throws it away for you.


Erasers – I recommend stocking a rubber eraser (or adhesive pick up eraser) as well as an art gum eraser. The art gum is great for removing any pencil markings, and the larger, rubber eraser removes other kinds of grime and residue. It helps brighten up board and fabric covers, as well.

Brodex multipurpose cleaner – This multipurpose cleaner is essential for keeping book storage spaces safe from dust, mold or any other grime that tries to sneak its way onto your books. It’s safe for carpet, wood, vinyl, fabric, steel and plastic, and it’s acid-free so no left over chemicals can harm books.


It can be used on book covers, though I advise caution, because the vigorous scrubbing necessary for Brodex to be effective on fabric surfaces is probably too much for most old books.

Another note, for the longevity of your own body, be sure to use this aerosol spray cleaner in a well-ventilated area.


White cotton gloves – These are not only essential for any well-styled librarian look,  but also prevent oils and dirt from your hands from transferring to your books and thus undoing all of your hard, restorative work.

Filmoplast heat-set adhesive – Filmoplast is a non-aging, non-yellowing, pH neutral tape. It requires a bit of dry heat to set (a blow dryer will do just fine, if you’re working from home) and is practically invisible. Of course, that does mean it’s a bit difficult to peel from the paper baking and apply to your book in just the right spot, but you’ll develop your own system with a bit of practice.


The key to beginning book restoration is the same as beginning anything: practice! Next time you’re antiquing, grab a book or two that are in bad shape, and see what your can do with the supplies. Like with my Milton, there may be books that are beyond amateur repair, or repair at all. Be careful to make that determination from the start, so you don’t back into any corners or make any mistakes from which there is no recovery.

Finding and determining the quality of used books


The treasure hunt feeling of antiquing is perhaps my favorite part of this entire vintage book journey. Antique shops, estate sales, second-hand bookstores and library sales are great places to begin your search. The below video is a quick montage of a library book sale at which I found an 1884 edition of Milton’s complete works. It’s of my favorite pieces in my collection!

Maybe I’m just nostalgic, but I love gingerly digging through piles of old books or scanning shelves until something catches my eye.

Obviously, I’m new to this, so I don’t have any particular criteria that I’m looking for, just for a title that I’m familiar with or a binding that piques my very limited design sensibilities. Condition is clearly important, though it can be difficult to weigh the value of condition and rarity. You’re lucky to find both in one volume, but most of the time you have to decide how much restoration a book requires, and merits, before purchasing.

If you’re purchasing online, or enjoy neurotically categorizing things like me, here are some typical guidelines for book conditions.

As New – “As new” is exactly what it sounds like. This book is in the exact same condition is was when it was published, and has never been thumbed, read or opened.

Fine (F or FN) – “Fine”is just under “as new,” meaning there is no visible wear on the book, but it has been owned and possibly read.

Very Good (VG) – A “very good” book may show some signs of wear, but without tears on the binding or paper. Any defects, and this is important to note for any category, should be listed by the seller.

Good (G). “Good” essentially describes the average used, worn book. All pages and leaves are present, and the binding and covers are intact.

Fair – This book has complete text, but may be missing some other elements, such as maps or end pages. There may be mild defects or issues with the jacket, as well. This is where I start to weigh the value of the book, because it may need substantial work for restoration.

Poor – A “Poor” book has complete text and a jacket, but nothing else is guaranteed. Maps and other additional plates may be missing, but should be noted. There may be signification defects, such as scuffs, stains or spots, or loose or broken binding.

Binding Copy – This ends the scale of used book quality, but is a condition worth nothing. “Binding copy” describes a book in which the pages or leaves are all present but the binding is very bad, loose, off or nonexistent. My Milton collection falls under this category; the back of the leather cover is in pieces in the protective sleeve.

Reading Copy – Again, “reading copy” means just what it appears to be. This book is good for reading, and nothing more. It may be useful for research on editions or publication history, but doesn’t have value in collecting.

Like the Milton, I’m certainly guilty of picking up books that might be beyond repair. (How could I turn down a collection that includes “Paradise Lost”? And has leather binding? There was no way). That’s certainly one that I may take to a professional for restoration, if it turns out to be particularly valuable. Maybe regardless; I kind of love it.

The care and keeping of vintage books


Whether you’re planning on fully restoring your antique books to their former glory, or just hanging on to them for future inspection, they need to be given the proper care in this ripe old age. Here are the measures you should consider to ensure that your books are still around when you’re an antique, too.

Location – Keep your collectibles in a spot that’s safe from direct sunlight. You can also buy UV resistant book covers, for added fade protection. Be aware of temperature and humidity, too. Make sure your books are clear from air vents or other sources of heat. Stay away from potential water sources, like pipes, AC ducts or windows, anything that could lead to condensation. The ideal storage temperature for book longevity is 60 to 66 degrees Farenheit; that information is probably unnecessary for most of us, but if you’re going all the way, go all the way.

Shelving – Store your vintage books upright on shelves like any other books. Don’t remove your antique books (or any books, for that matter) by pulling them by the top of the spine. Pinch the spine on both sides to take books off the shelf as kindly as possible.

Keep them near books of the same size, to keep the spines from warping, and make sure that they aren’t packed too tight. You don’t want to accidentally damage a book by struggling to pull it off the shelf. Keeping more space between the books can also provide more air flow and keep your books better off for preventing mold and mildew.

If you keep your books on wooden shelves, only used sealed wood, to prevent any acid in the wood from leading into your books.

Dust – Dust your books regularly to keep them mold, mildew or mites. I use Chinese hake brushes to dust mine; they’re gentle and safe, and easy for me to identify among my various art and building supplies as my “book brushes.” Storing your books in a seal-able cabinet is another great way to cut down on potentially dangerous dust.

Covers –  Purchase books covers for all of your hardbacks, and sleeves for any paperbacks.

Handling – Handle your books wearing 100% cotton gloves, to avoid oils and dirt from your hands from rubbing off onto the pages.

AbeBooks is a great source for learning more about your vintage books. I keep my antique books on the same shelf as the rest of my library, but on their own shelf. I’ve begun restoring the the pieces I have, and tutorials are on the way. Stay tuned!

‘From Sea to Sea’ two volumes, 1899 edition


If you thought that this blog was called The Kipling Project because it made me feel like some sort of covert operative, you were wrong. I wouldn’t blow my cover so easily.

The fact of the matter, is that a collection of Rudyard Kipling’s work inspired this entire venture. “From Sea to Sea; Letters of Travel,” collects the author’s articles from his 1889 travels through India, Burma, China, Japan and the United States. In the collection’s preface, Kipling writes, “In these two volumes I have got together the bulk of the special correspondence and occasional articles written by my for the Civil and Military Gazette and the Pioneer between 1887-1889.”

from-sea-to-sea-rudyard-kipling-1899-volume 2-title page

The original edition was published in two volumes in 1899, by the Doubleday & McClure Company out of New York. Both volumes are currently worth approximately $175 in good condition. This must have been a triumphant steal for the company, as it had only just been founded in 1897. Fifty years later, 1947 exactly, it was the largest publishing house in the United States. Modern publishing is still building on these roots; DoubleDay merged with Knopf Publishing group in 2009, and the group they formed is now under Penguin Random House.

The collection I found contains a 1899 copyright, but there’s no guarantee to what that means for a print date. It contains a Doubleday & McClure Company trademark, as well as a notation for Norwood Press, J.S. Cushing & CO – Berwick & Smith, Norwood Mass. U.S.A. It appears that this company issued cheaper re-prints of popular works in the U.S.

My volumes are the Authorized Edition, though the preface puts that term into doubt, as Kipling says, “I have been forced into this action [of collecting the stories] by the enterprise of various publishers who, not content with disinterring old newspaper work from the decent seclusion of the office files, have in several instances seen fit to embellish it with additions and interpolations.”

This printing is worth significantly less, especially lacking the gilt embellishing originally on the spine, as mine is.

I love the idea of owning these volumes. I love Kipling. I love the sassy preface. Of course, I want to get them appraised with the rest of the books, but I’m sure they will inevitably end up in the keep pile, for sentimental value alone.

Books: ‘Lame Bessie’

Fern Glen Series Lame Bessie by H.H.F.

The next book up is “Lame Bessie; or, Simple Faith,” a children’s book in the “Fern Glen Series.” It was written by H.H.F., whose full name I have not been able to find. This copy says it was published by D. Lothrop & Co. out of Boston in 1875, but I found an 1874 edition of “Publisher’s Weekly” that lists the book available for sale for $1.

The cover of this copy is worn, but otherwise fully intact on the outside. It needs some mending on the inside, to reattach the cover, but the binding is still holding well. It’s dirty and moldy in some places, so it may be first book to be subject to some cleaning experimentation.

I haven’t been able to find another copy of this book online anywhere, but I did find some other entries in the series, one called “Overcoming” by Elizabeth K. Churchill, and one called “Fern Glen; or, Lilian’s Prayer” by M.H. Holt. That latter book may not be related, as it was published by a different publishing house, but the names seem to close to discount.

Books: ‘Little Women’

I’m going to kick things off on The Kipling Project by spotlighting the books I have found and am planning on restoring. The first up is “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. This particular edition is the “New Illustrated” edition, published by Little, Brown, and Company in 1927.

It’s an early combined edit; the artwork, cover, and format are the same as the first combined edition, printed in 1896.

My copy is in fairly rough shape. The cover and the spine need a lot of work; all of the gilding has worn off the spine, and the fabric is torn in several places. But inside the binding and pages are still good.

This is one of the books I am currently planning on keeping for myself. It’s a childhood favorite, and it doesn’t appear to be worth anything at the moment, especially in it’s current state.

Just So Stories of vintage book restoration

Welcome to The Kipling Project, the digi-journal of my newest hobby project. Who am I? Shelby Loebker, giant nerd, full-time book lover, and occasional wearer of pants. I’m a writer and editor working on the last year of my B.F.A.

What am I doing? I’m diving into book restoration, because I was recently lucky enough to stumble upon some old, and hopefully rare or at least somewhat collectible, books.

Here’s how it went down:

My family is really involved with the local public library, and were volunteering to help organize a new annex. They went through all of the old books in storage, many of which were thrown away, while others were sold in book sales or simply returned to storage. Basically they got first pick at the cream of the crop, meaning I got first pick at the cream of the crop.

I didn’t plan on getting anything valuable or particularly life changing — I don’t know anything about antiques or restoration — but as things went along, they found too many books that I couldn’t let be thrown away (and also just wanted to have).

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So here we are.

Thanks for asking.