20 years ago the city of Mainz opened a workshop for the restoration of books at the Gutenberg Museum with the aim of preserving the considerable stock of reading matter held at the museum and at Mainz's city library. The project was initiated and the necessary start-up funds provided by the Volkswagen Foundation (Stiftung Volkswagenwerk) who at the time had sponsored a number of restoration workshops at various libraries throughout Germany.
Book restorer Annette Lang-Edwards has worked in the workshop she herself set up since 1984. (Photo). She restores various volumes in three different rooms.
In 2004, for example, this small-format book was restored. It includes a rare Sibyl's Prophecy (shelfmark: Stb Ink 1073) printed in Strasbourg in 1505. The book was opened to reveal mouldy remnants of paper; the title page bearing the printer's mark was in tatters. The existing fragments were pieced back together and set into a new page; the missing sections were not reconstructed or "retouched", however, as is common when restoring paintings.
The job of the book restorer isn't just limited to restoration; the conservation of existing works is just as important. Dust, humidity, dryness, light and improper handling can do great damage to a book. To prevent books being subjected to such conditions they are packed in protective jackets. The restorer also checks the placing of books on their shelves and monitors climatic conditions such as temperature and humidity. In an attempt to protect books destined for display the restorer supervises the packaging, transportation and arrangement of books at new exhibitions. The light intensity is also checked and reduced to minimise the destructive effect of light rays. Books are often presented on special supports to avoid being displayed in positions which might prove harmful. Exhibition visitors also want to be able to view the book in all its detail, challenging the restorer to cater for both the wishes of prospective viewers and the need to protect the items on display.
The Gutenberg Museum is unable to restore books for private individuals. It is also not in a position to value books. In special cases the museum's book restorer may be able to provide an assessment of a book's general condition. If a private individual then wishes to have the book restored, the museum can provide a list of suitable names and addresses. In such instances the museum restorer is unable to estimate the cost any pending restoration work may incur.