An Interview with Sophia S. W. Bogle, author of Book Restoration Unveiled

Sophia S.W. Bogle is an expert in book restoration with a diploma from the American Academy of Bookbinding and over 25 years of hands-on experience. She founded Save Your Books (formerly Red Branch Book Restoration) in 2000. 

Among her thousands of book restorations are first editions of Darwin’s Origin of Species, The Kelmscott Chaucer, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  She is the author of Book Restoration Unveiled, which is just out and available in three formats: See below for more details.

Sophia will be at the Ashland Book Exchange celebrating and signing books from 4-6 on July 5.

Ed Battistella: Who is Book Restoration Unveiled for?  Who is your audience?

Sophia Bogle: The book evolved as I wrote. I started out writing it only for book collectors and then it expanded to include book dealers and then it expanded again because I realized that anyone who loves books should know these things. 

EB:  One of the things I found fascinating in the book and in your presentations is the history of book restoration and repair—can you tell our listeners a bit about the Florence Flood in the 1960s?

SB: The Florence Flood was a huge turning point. Before the flood, innovations in book repair technology just sort of followed behind whatever the art world was doing for art restoration. The flood damaged so many books all at once (millions) that it forced a shift. New techniques had to be invented quickly. Some worked, some didn’t, but the combination of moisture and heat made the books into time bombs for mold as well as pages getting stuck together. It was a real Mission Impossible moment and Peter Waters emerged as the hero. He led hundreds of “mud angels”(as the volunteers were called) through the muck of the detritus from the flood to rescue as many books as they could. 

EB: What’s the distinction between repair, restoration and conservation in a nutshell?

SB: First of all, Conservation is a profession. The people who do it are Conservators. What they do mostly is preservation but they also do restoration. The goal of preservation is to maintain the original object into the future with minimal change to the object. You can use the words conservation and preservation in the same ways but I find that confusing. 

Second, repair is both the overarching term for any treatment of something broken and it can also refer to simple treatments that are not fussed about matching or being invisible. 

Third, restoration is focused on invisible treatments that will bring the book back to functionality and its original beauty. 

EB: How does it feel to work with rare books—you’ve handled some first editions and even a Shakespeare First Folio in your career.  Do you have a sense of awe when you work with such rare pieces? 

SB: It is certainly wonderful to hold such a book and imagine the history. It means even more to me now that I have seen the play The Book of Will which was at OSF last year. The First Folio came through the shop when I was working for David Weinstein. It didn’t actually need any restoration at all. David just did a bit of treatment on the leather for preservation. In my interview with David in the book (BRU) he talks about the very interesting story of its sale.

EB: In Book Restoration Unveiled, you mention that some people think that book restoration and making facsimiles is inherently a bad thing. What do you say to that?  Can book restoration be used for good and evil?

SB: I am not sure that there is anything in the world that cannot be twisted with evil intent. I truly believe that the answer is always more information. I say that because I have had experience with some book people who have suggested that I should not be telling people about how some of these frauds are perpetuated. Their thinking is that now more people will commit crimes. I say that no information can create the intent. The intent exists aside from information. It is more important to arm the general public with the tools to spot it!

EB: You also talk about book restoration fraud? What is the most common type of fraud?

SB: There are three things that come to mind. Swapping out pages with publishers information in order to make the book appear to be a more valuable edition. Scratching out/removing numbers or words for the same purpose. And lastly, swapping out pages to insert the author’s signature.  None of those things can be done without intent to defraud and it is the intent that matters most. 

EB: One of the great features of your book are the many interviews with book professionals.  What was your idea in doing that? What did you learn from talking with them? 

SB: The interviews came out of a need to understand how others in the book world saw restoration. I was aware of a certain paradox that I wanted to clarify. You see, book restoration is both revered and shunned or hidden. Book dealers will only reluctantly tell you about who does restoration for them because they don’t want their book restoration person to get backed up and not have the time to do that dealers’ books. 

Also, dealers and collectors know that a book that has been restored is then not seen as a perfect book and so a stigma is attached. The stigma is attached even though the book was broken in the first place. This is due to the top 1% of book collectors preferring untouched books and so is market driven. 

The last part of it is that some people have been using the skills of book restoration to have shady things done and they don’t want to be caught. I have turned away some people when they asked me to do sketchy things. In the book I mention how one person asked me to change the name of the publisher on the spine of a book. I could have done it but I could not see how that wasn’t fraud so I declined.

EB: There is an Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America code of ethics.  What does that entail?

SB: The important thing is that they must declare any changes made to a book meaning restoration or re-binding mostly. Also they must accept returns if the book is not as stated. 

EB: Can you tell us a little about the Print-to-Sew version (sew-your-own-version delete) of Book Restoration Unveiled and about your video courses and book repair kits.

SB: I have created a Print to Sew format that is a set of downloadable pdfs. You just print each signature double-sided and then you can sew them together and bind it however you like. No instructions are included at this time.  I might be the first person ever to offer this as an option. There is a risk that someone will print a ton of copies to sell and so I will lose out on money. But aside from the fact that I could sue them for copyright infringement, I believe the bookbinders out there to be honorable. Teachers can just let me know they need more copies for a class and I will approve such uses. Otherwise they can print three copies to bind as they like. That comes out to about $5 per copy. They can sell the three copies that they bind themselves as long as they have bought the download properly.

AND, I have decided to donate 10% of all sales of the Print to Sew book to the Save Your Books Scholarship Fund. I have three applicants this term already. Scholarships are awarded quarterly. To donate or apply go to:

EB: Is there a book out there that you are just dying to work on but haven’t had the chance yet?

SB: Not really. I actually get excited about each book that comes through my shop, I love meeting with the owner and finding out why the book is important. I do love working on illustrated children’s books though. Rackham and Sendak are favorites and I also love all the Wizard of Oz series that has come through the studio.

EB: How can readers get copies of Book Restoration Unveiled?

SB: There is an e-book format that is available through Amazon, while the Paperback and the Print to Sew formats are available through .  I have decided not to sell the paperback on Amazon in order to encourage independent bookstores to carry it.

The Paperback is also available through several  local independent bookstores including the Ashland Book Exchange, Bloomsbury Books, Rebel Heart Books and Oregon Books and Games. It is also available in the rare book room in Powell’s City of Books and at Chaparral Books in Portland and J. Michaels’ Books in Eugene. Please support your local independent bookstores!

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

SB: It is my pleasure! 

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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