Rescuing literary heirlooms one repair at a time

Knowing Your Business ~ By Antoinette Rahn

In the digital and virtual world we live in, to some the idea of a book serving as more than reading material is unfathomable. For others, books that have been dutifully passed down from family member to family member represent the character, experiences, sentiments and legacy of an individual or family.

Jim "The Book Man" Andrews

Jim “The Book Man” Andrews in his workshop.

As with many things, exposure to time and frequent handling can take a toll on books. That’s where Jim “The Book Man” Andrews of Green Bay, Wis. comes to the rescue. Lovingly examining, and then repairing everything from classic novels to family Bibles, the Book Man is doing his part to help preserve literary treasures.

Antique Trader: What was the reason you got started in bookbinding/repairing books?

Jim “The Book Man” Andrews: I began repairing Bibles in 2006, and it started because I hate the way three-ring binders take up so much unnecessary room on a bookshelf, and I had many on my bookshelf. I don’t have any three-ring binders anymore, but I do have a lot more room on my bookshelf.

My first attempt at binding was after I did a brief search online and thought “I can do that.” I was wrong! I decided to do a lot more digging, and after much reading and downloading (I even have a copy of an 1832 bookbinding ‘how to’ manual), I bought several 25-cent books from area thrift stores, destroyed them and repaired them (well, did what I could), and then did it again, several times, and then many more times!

AT: What are the most frequent types of repairs you do?

JA: The most common repairs I do are rebinding old Bibles. This includes large family bibles with dried and torn leather covers, and 20-50-year-old Bibles that have lots of notes, underlining and highlighting. These are cherished items the owners don’t want to replace, but want back in one piece.

A friend of mine was given a Bible by her grandfather a couple of months before he passed. She kept bringing it to our Bible class until it was quite literally falling apart. It had many of his notes, underlining and highlighting, and she loathed the idea of parting with it. I repaired it for her in 2007, and today it looks the same way it did right after the repair.

series of repair images

From left, a cherished, but wounded family Bible; part of the repair process involving sewing the binding; a grateful customer reunited with her repaired Bible.

Several other people from my Bible class also began asking me to repair their Bibles. Word spread around the national organization I belong to and I began getting requests from all over. Since then, I have repaired many Bibles and books from all over the U.S. and Canada, from individuals, churches, historical and genealogical societies, antique dealers and booksellers, among others.

AT: How many books on average do you repair in a year? What is the average time it takes to repair a book that has minor repairs, versus one in need a complete overhaul?

JA: At this time, I’m repairing about two or three books per week, some weeks more, some weeks less. It’s about 50 to 100 books per year.

AT: What is one of the most memorable repair jobs you’ve done, and what made it so memorable?

JA: The most memorable Bible I repaired was a large family Bible for my son-in-law’s uncle. It is one of the first Bibles I did of that sort. The uncle was heartbroken that it was in such terrible shape. Photos I took during the repair process are featured on the “Large Family Bible” page of my site. The 3 Keysletter he sent me after the repair is typical of the type of responses I receive after completing repairs. He shared those comments again when I saw him at my daughter’s graduation a couple of years ago.

Editor’s Note: Here is a portion of the letter, from Jim Smith of Houston: “Got the Bible today, and again, all I can say is WOW! It is beautiful, and it is a miracle. I didn’t know if there was anything that could be done, but my niece saw it and said you could fix it, and from there, you did the job.”

AT: What is the price range for repairs?

JA: My prices range from $50 to $150 for rebinding. Just putting a book together again is at the lower end, and putting a whole new cover on is at the upper end. I use Naugahyde, cloth, Buckram and leather. Each book is priced individually, as each requires a different amount of care.

Regardless of the repair, The Book Man views it as a chance to help others, and treats each book with utmost respect.

To contact The Book Man, visit www.bookman-jim.biz, email jim@bookman-jim.biz, or call 920-265-5966.

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