For many years I have been taking neglected, unloved, antique books and giving them new life.
Having grown up in a family who frequently hunted for treasures in antique malls and flea markets (undoubtedly owning more objects that would qualify as antique than new), I still love ‘the hunt’. I’ll admit that when I was younger, I found that antique malls could go on and on and on and that my mom walked very slowly through each booth, and that my dad could look through record bins forever. So I decided I would have my own collections. They varied from antique colored small glass bottles, to bells, porcelain dancers with real lace, or anything wolf related. For the past 9 years, it has been antique books.
When I was studying abroad in Italy, I took my first bookbinding class. But it was a friend in the program, who we loving called “Monster” because of her affinity to telling jokes about monsters (and because we loved giving nicknames), who really sparked my passion for it. She was always carrying around a vintage hard cover sci-fi book with spacemen on it. I asked her about it and she revealed that the inside was a day planner, carefully and permanently inserted.
With the help of this book and the skills I had picked up in my book binding classes, and much trial and error, I finally managed to take an antique book, remove the original pages and permanently insert blank pages to make a beautiful and completely unique journal. The original cover is left in tact and in all its glory so that at first glance it seems nothing more than an old book.
As with most crafters, I started out making them for myself and as gifts. I became an antique book deal hunter- scouring flea markets, yard sales, and antique malls far and wide for the most beautiful books that could be found for $5 or less. Sometimes I splurged.
I started selling them locally in Asheville. Local favorite, Harvest Records, was the very first place to sell them and I’m pretty sure I always turned my profits right back over to them for new CDs.
I tried my hand at a few craft fairs. Two out of the three outdoor festivals I sold them in were rainy. Once three books blew off my table and into a puddle. For the most part, they sold very well. One woman was so smitten with them that she cleared out her garage and gave me her old books in the hopes that I would turn them into treasures. Many of them have been.
A very cool local store that features recycled and upcycled art started selling them with great success last year sometime. And they’ve been on and off my etsy page for a few years as I’ve had time to list them. I have no doubt that I have created over 100 books in this way.
It’s not a cheap art. It’s not a fast art. It’s an art form that requires good materials, patience, and accuracy. I cut every books’ pages by hand with an x-acto knife and a ruler. I folded every sheet myself with my bone folder and bound every signature with waxed linen thread. There were no short cuts, no machinery.
Big Love Fest, 2012
Lexington Ave. Arts and Fun Festival, 2011
I found that selling them on consignment was convenient but impossible to make what they are worth. I was making $18 a book when my materials were nearly half of that. I know it’s cliche, but I wasn’t in it for the money. This is something I loved doing, that people loved using, and I tried to make a little profit on each one. Eventually I raised my prices and took them off the shelves of the consignment store, selling them only in my Etsy Shop and the occasional outdoor market (which is completely exhausting). I started to feel as if it were impossible to make the money on each that would match the time and expense that went into each one. Over the years, I have seen different people starting to use a similar method for journal making but they always opted for a simpler approach- open spine binding or even inserting a plastic spiral so it looks like a fancy spiral bound notebook. I think the reason is that my way is the fussiest, hardest, and most time consuming way to do it! Keeping the original spine in tact is tricky and takes patience.
I also found that the craft of them made an old injury of mine flare up to the point that I couldn’t make large numbers of them without pain.
So… I’m retiring. For now, maybe forever. I know making books will always be a part of my craft. I’ll always make them because I love to. I just won’t make as many. And I might not make them to sell. I still have one huge Tupperware bin filled to the brim with the most beautiful books, waiting for their new life. Maybe someday. I hope someday.
In the meantime, I have a few precious journals left that I will be listing over the coming week in my shop. I hope you’ll stop by and have a look, maybe buy one for yourself or as a gift.
In case you’re curious, my favorite place for cheap and beautiful used books is Exit 76 Antique Mall in Edingburgh, Indiana.