Thursday 26 May 2011

Removing bookplates

So you've decided you're going to collect bookplates.  Great!  But where to begin?  That is always the question.

My bookplate collection started somewhat accidentally.  A little while ago now I came into possession of several books that had bookplates in them, and this prompted me to become more interested in ex libris, labels, etc.  Then I attended an antiquarian book fair, where one dealer had a box full of them he was selling for a few coins each.  Before I knew it I had 3 or 4 loose bookplates plus the ones in my books, and well, suddenly there was a collection.

I made the decision that any book I was planning to retain in my private library would also retain any provenance it came with, including the bookplates.  So I started hunting through various shops, flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, church sales, etc. for cheap old books containing bookplates.  In many cases these books were heavily damaged and bought for a pittance, so I didn't feel any remorse about rescuing the bookplate from the book.  That said, I have on occasion, and know others as well, that remove bookplates from perfectly good books.  These books are then often moved along either by sale or donation.

Anyway, enough preamble.  Let's assume you've got yourself a great bookplate waiting to be removed from a book.  What to do?

First, you'll need a clean work area plus some basic but important tools.  Here's the list:

1. A small plain rubberized cutting mat.
2. A micro-spatula (available at any local arts and crafts store)
3. Scissors
4. An X-acto knife
5. A few sheets of paper towel
6. A sheet of wax paper
7. Something heavy (like two bricks)
8. An old plate
9. Some boiling water

I keep most of these items in a simple pencil case along with a few other items like a small magnifying glass.  More on that later.  Now that you've got your tools, your place to work at, and your mat to work on, let's remove the bookplate.  Start by:

a. Boil some water, and when it is ready pour a small amount out onto the plate.

b. While the water is coming to a boil, cut a piece of paper towel so that it is slightly larger than the bookplate.

c. When ready, dip the cut piece of paper towel into the boiling water on the plate, remove it and let it drain naturally.  Then quickly press it between another folded paper towel sheet to remove some of the excess water.  The dipped piece should remain pretty wet.

d. Place the steaming towel on top of the bookplate.

e. Place the wax paper on the opposite side and close the book.  The wax paper will protect the other pages from getting soaked unnecessarily.

f. Put some weight on the book.  I use two bricks.

g. Wait 5-10 minutes.

g. Take the bricks off.  Open the book and remove the wax paper and the wet paper towel.

h. Using the x-acto knife, gently pry up one of the corners of the bookplate.

i. Now using your micro-spatula, continue to gently pry up the bookplate.

j. If you encounter any resistance, don't force it.  Simply return a new hot towel over the bookplate, put the wax paper back, close the book and add the weight.  Wait a few more minutes, open the book and try again.  Eventually the the bookplate will come loose.

k. To avoid the bookplate curling up after (which they tend to want to do) place the bookplate into a clear sleeve or between some paper towel and add some weight for an hour or so.

How did it work for you?  I've used this method many times with great success.

A selection of different micro-spatulas

Some other things to note.  Coloured plates, especially ones with red dye, might bleed if too much moisture is applied.  It's a good idea to gently test them with a dab of water on a paper towel before starting the removal process.  Also, if the plate has been written on or stamped over, these inks also tend to blur with excess water applied to them, so remember start with less and work your way towards more.

You may want to practice on damaged bookplates before taking on your prized finds.  Just saying.

The magnifying glass comes in handy for spotting bookplate designer signatures and initials, which sometimes may be hard to spot or read clearly with the naked eye.

Well there it is.  I wish you the best of luck with your bookplate removing!

No comments:

Post a Comment