Is Restoration Dying?

First Ed. Tom Sawyer, seen at the 2019 NYC Armory Book Show a few weeks ago.

Twenty years ago this Tom Sawyer, and other expensive first editions, were often extensively restored. This often involved a lot of conservationally questionable work. Redying or painting abrasions in the cloth, sophisticating the text with better boards from later editions, mixing partial textblocks with better condition plates were all common practice. Anything, really, that would make the book appear in more pristine condition.

Dust jackets, often worth more than the book they covered, were treated similarly with invasive, invisible, and often irreversible restoration done to make them look brand new. And now, the untouched ones are worth more than ones that has been messed with. Uh-oh.

And if the label on this Tom Sawyer is a harbinger of the market, things are changing for the books too. I personally became interested in old books because I liked the way old books looked, and didn’t want to change that. Generally speaking, old books and other old things are becoming more valuable when they are genuinely old, exhibit use value, have wear, patina, history, and character. Authenticity, in a word. Three reasons for this come to mind for this change: we spend more time virtually, are overwhelmed with disposable objects that can’t be fixed or retained, and there is a dwindling supply of unaltered old objects. I’m sure there are others.

A recent NY Times article about high end watches neatly summarizes some reasons for the appreciation — romanticization?— of older watches, which also could apply to books. “… old watches are considered cool: They have patina, provenance, soul. And for a generation of men (and yes, vintage watches seem to be an obsession largely for men, with apologies to Ellen [DeGeneres]) who value the analog-chic of antique mechanical watches, just like vinyl records and selvage jeans… .” A millennial friend of mine likened the record player in her living room to a fireplace: of course it is not necessary, but it is comforting to engage with a durable antiquated technology that takes a little bit of attention and care. It wasn’t an audiophile’s opining: she liked the thingness of it.

There is an imposing presence when you hold an older book in your hands.  A Benjaminian “aura”. Somehow just knowing this object has seen so much over the years impacts us.  The scars, damage, wear, uniqueness, and trauma an object has encountered can often add aesthetic and sometimes even informational value. An extreme example might be the books that were damaged while by stopping a bullet, possibly saving a life. Despite being mass produced, nineteenth century titles are often unique, due to the amount of handwork that went into them at various stages of the binding, and the physical traces from their existence in time and space.

Yet I fear the book dealer’s sign on this Tom Sawyer may swing the pendulum too far. Although I only looked at this book under glass, I could think of a few very minor treatments that would greatly extend the life of this object when handled, without impacting its aesthetic value, use value, patina or other inherent qualities. Is “free from repair” a good thing if the joint continues to tear with each opening? Or was the dealer sophisticated enough to distinguish between restoration, repair and conservation?

A professional conservator (i.e. me) takes their ethical obligations to the object entrusted to their care seriously, and most of us pledge to do this in writing.  The AIC guidelines for practice specifically discuss compensation for loss and reversibility.  Restoration treatment may or may not reversible: conservation treatment always should be. This may be the main reason for the notice on the Tom Sawyer book: a future owner could move forward with a more invasive treatment, depending on the intended uses of the book, but could not go back. And this affects the value.

Are we finally witnessing a place for conservation oriented book treatments in the marketplace and recognition in the public sphere?

 

500th Blog Post. A Look Back at the First One: Philosophy of Conservation

Eleven years ago when I started this blog. I didn’t have a clear idea of what it would become, I just wanted some kind of presence on the web. Over time it has become a place to investigate book history, advertise my book conservation business, examine some of my tool collection, promote my workshops, dip my toes into the philosophy of craft, and announce new bookbinding tools.

Two years ago, the tools moved to  Peachey Tools.  I use instagram for more image based sharing. The board slotting machine has a following among book conservators, my book conservation and tool businesses keep chugging along, and I do a fair amount of teaching.

Looking over my posts, they keep returning to four main topics: tools, books, craft, and conservation.

An unintended benefit of sustained blogging is how it feeds longer term writing projects: sometimes by immediate gratification, sometimes by regular practice, and sometimes by feedback from readers. Tom Conroy in particular deserves a thank you for his 52 comments, many of which contain new information, and several which exceed the word count of the original post!

Below is my first blog post — a mini-manifesto, really — my philosophy of conservation. Those who know me may be surprised I’m not as pessimistic concerning the future of book conservation as I was in 2008. The quality and sensitivity of book conservation has increased in the past 11 years, at least from what I see of it, and  book conservation education continues to evolve with change as society and the uses and values of books change. But there is still much work to do. Onward!

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Philosophy of Conservation (originally published  17 April 2008)

It was almost 100 years ago that Douglas Cockerell wrote, “Generally speaking, it is desirable that the characteristics of an old book should be preserved… It is far more pleasant to see an old book in a patched contemporary binding, than smug and tidy in the most immaculate modern cover.”   Today, I am disheartened to find what little has changed; rows and rows of rebound or insensitively rebacked volumes, giving no hint of their original nature.  All to often, books and the information they contain are needlessly  destroyed by inappropriate or outdated techniques.

As microfilming, photocopying, and digital methods of storing and transmitting conceptual information become more and more prevalent, I feel the intrinsic aspects of books and paper artifacts: their physical construction, material content, aesthetics, and tactile qualities, are irreplaceable and will prove to be the most valuable.  These are the aspects I preserve for future generations.

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Bookbinding and the Care of Books Lyons and Burford,  p. 306

Upcoming Conference: Technical cultures of repair, from prehistory to the present day

Damn, this is a great looking conference in Paris next summer. The deadline is September 30 2018 for abstracts. It is always a bit of a long-shot for conservators to participate in “real” academic conferences, but this one is so relevant. I hope we are represented: after all, this is what we study, think about and do on a daily basis. There is a very useful Bibliographie indicative attached to this call (below), suggesting a strong anthropological basis. Note the Vance Packard book — is he relevant in academia now? — and the continuing importance of Appadurai’s “Social Life of Things”. A publication is planned after the conference.
Thank you Sarah Lowengard for bringing this to my attention.
…..
Technical cultures of repair, from prehistory to the present day

International meeting
Paris, June 17-18, 2019

Repairs are a special moment in the “biography of an object” (Appadurai, Kopytoff). Although it was taken off the market circuit when it was bought, the object returns to the field of exchanges after being repaired, following an accident, wear and tear, or due to shortages or political commitments to sustainable consumption. This circulation generates knowledge and know-how, it involves professions and sociability (often gendered), it enhances the organization of a production system, largely supported by subcontracting networks and decentralized workshops, including in the contemporary period. Even in electronic processes, supposedly preventing any appropriation, are nestled complex embodied know-how, cultural cements of established professional circles (Callén). Recent creations of repair sites for electronic equipment attest the strength of this model but also the emergence of a new consumerist logic. Renewed studies since a generation on the restoration of technical objects in museums converge with these subjects dealing with “the life of the objects” (Bonnot) by asking the question of the limit between the necessity to repair and the preservation of traces of use, this limit materializing the distinction between a functional object (being repaired) and piece of art (being restored).

Research in archeology is full of examples of repairs at all times. Since the Paleolithic, societies have repaired flint, either to sharpen sharp tools or to produce other tools. It is then necessary to distinguish what is of the order of repair to retain the desired use of the object, and what is associated with true recycling using a partially formatted raw material. The analysis of repaired objects allows us to understand the reasons for the repairs and to approach the values ​​assigned by each community to the objects in question. In some cases, this may involve repairs to an object that has caused a considerable workload; in others, the symbolic value of these objects has created a need to preserve them, as it is illustrated by the case of ceramic material.

The gap is to be emphasized with the historical works. While the history of consumerism, which has been booming for a generation, has been heavily influenced by second-hand sales, the prolongation of life of objects in scarcity societies and recycling circuits, the history of repairs was not often addressed.  Similarly, the interest in re-employment in approaches crossing anthropology, ethnology, sociology, archeology and the history of technology has quite neglected the study of gestures, places, knowledge and repair circuits. Business archives suggest, however, over the long term, the extent of repairs in craft and manufacturing enterprises, sometimes along intercontinental circuits. Recent approaches show the importance of these everyday and repetitive techniques in the reconfiguration of trade identities around operative skills and in the emergence of transverse production sectors, for example for the supply of spare parts and fasteners. It belongs to the history of the rationalization of work, as already shown by the studies on artillery (Alder) or on shipbuilding (“From repairs came industry,” said Hélène Vérin). Thus, repair techniques are part of the concept of “technology’s middle ground” by which Kevin Borg defines “an ambiguous space between production and consumption”.

While the transformation of production methods in the 19th century through the interchangeability of parts led to a “discipline” of repair, in the 20th century the planned obsolescence introduced a new relationship to the object that excluded any possibility of repair – hence transforming the goals assigned to engineers. This disappearance of the repair prompted the reactions of sociologists in the 1960s (Packard) and more recently, of consumer groups (and their lawyers, like against Apple in 2003), of journalists (Slade), and even industrialists concerned with sustainable economy (Warner et alii). In the 20th century, whereas the era of mass consumption diffused the culture of the ready to use and throw away in the West, the communist ideology on the contrary emphasized the technical cultures centered on the extended uses of the objects in the name of the inventiveness, the rationalization and the value of human work. In the communist countries, secondary schools trained girls to make clothes and repair clothes and boys to make objects with wood and other materials (Golubev, Smolyak). Magazines and clubs promoted repairing know-how among amateurs, while repair centers were created and included specialized workshops in household technologies, clothing, shoes, etc. Planned industry malfunctions, with stock outs and systematic rejects, were then compensated by amateur and professional repair circuits and by the traffic of spare parts and pieces (Siegelbaum).

The subject opens on the place of technical action to restore and sustain the functionality of the objects – that is, the human part of technology. Western industrialization itself has fostered critical reflections on the urge to progress and the dehumanization that went hand in hand with it. In the 19th century, while mechanization and the race for power and speed led to the sanctification of technology and to the marginalization of the human factor, the place of repair was indicative of the willingness to enhance the appropriation of the machine by man (Jarrige, Barron). The milieu that was concerned with the quality of the objects, their reliability, their safety (like in the Conservatoire des arts et métiers) and hence, with repairs and maintenance, reintroduced descriptions and analysis of the human action in technical publications, and collected all sorts of techniques – everyday life techniques and micro-inventions-, in connection with the rising profession of mechanic (Dufaux).

This technical culture of repair, which has matched the intensification of production (artisanal and industrial) and which has received its theorization (Simondon) raises the question of the temporalities. Are mending techniques to be assigned to a traditional material culture or do they participate in new know-how? Ordinary repairs in the countries of the South and in Asia are emblematic of a plurality of temporalities. The work on repairs in Africa shows the way here (Speranza). Scrubbing, sanding, varnishing are all acts that anticipate degradation and are part of a maintenance economy, suggesting the need to study the temporality – and  the words (Roulon-Doko) – of this complex activity, occasional and / or regular, combining the short-term and the long-term life of objects (Dupré). These daily and ordinary repair cultures are widely found in developing countries and continue today. But the current situation of countries such as Ghana which is subject to the dumping of electronic products from developed countries, repaired for resale or recuperated (waste fields), raises the question of the articulation of these new intensive practices – an expression of obvious economic domination – with traditional ones inscribed in very different logics. Moreover, whereas it is quite usual to consider repairs as part of the so-called informal economy (Cheneau-Loquay), the last decades have been blurring the border between the circuits of objects in rich and poor countries because of the emergence of the culture of reparation as an ecological approach and as a citizen commitment to slow consumption. The economy of recycling and re-use reflects an institutionalized concern for the environment – that is questioned (Monsaingeon) – in addition to individual repair practices (Anstett, Ortar).

Finally, repair is a reflexive operation, which purpose is not only the restoration of a disturbed function or a damaged envelope, but also the investigation of the causes of dysfunctions, which is part of the improvement and the perfecting of devices, and belongs to the innovative practices (Jackson). Beyond this, repair is resurfacing today in an unexpected way, as a claim of technical intelligibility that undermines the topos of the gap between manual and intellectual activities: this reconfiguration could invite us to rethink our conditions of access to reflexivity as being originally and always already technological (Crawford).

This symposium proposes to examine the evolution of repair practices and cultures in the long term, in a global and comparative perspective. It intends to examine the sites of repair (factories, docks, workshops, clubs, garages, home, etc.), the figures of the repairer (the amateur and the professional) and the ways in which the functionality of objects is envisaged during repairs (repair as restoration or repair as transformation). An approach based on geographical areas should allow the identification of circulations of models and repair techniques from one region to another, and understand how such circulations impact the economy and techniques around the world. The object is at the core of our approach – its materiality, its circulations, its biography allowing to grasp the cultural contexts in which to consider repairs.

Abstracts (max. 1000 characters) along with a CV should be sent to liliane.perez@wanadoo.fr and to larisazakharova@gmail.com by September 30st, 2018 at the latest. Presentations and discussion will be conducted in French or English. The symposium will lead to a publication.

 

Organisation

Gianenrico Bernasconi (Musée international d’horlogerie/université de Neuchâtel), Guillaume Carnino (UTC/COSTECH), Liliane Hilaire-Pérez (université Paris 7-EHESS/ICT-CAK), Olivier Raveux (CNRS/TELEMME), Larissa Zakharova (EHESS/CERCEC/CNRS/CEFR de Moscou).

Scientific Committee

Alexandre Bertaud (univ. Bordeaux Montaigne/Ausonius), Régis Bertholon (Haute école-ARC, Neuchâtel), Thierry Bonnot (CNRS/IRIS), Marie-Sophie Corcy (Musée des arts et métiers), Cecilia D’Ercole (EHESS/ANHIMA), Lionel Dufaux (Musée des arts et métiers), Anne Gerritsen (Univ. of Warwick/Global History and Culture Centre), Anne-Catherine Hauglustaine (Musée de l’air et de l’espace du Bourget), François Jarrige (Univ. de Bourgogne/Centre Chevrier), Régis Huguenin-Dumittan (Musée international d’horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds), Pierre Lamard (UTBM/RECITS), Thomas Le Roux (CNRS/CRH), Sylviane Llinares (Univ. Bretagne occidentale/GIS Histoire et sciences de la mer), Sigrid Mirabaud (Institut national du patrimoine/Laboratoire de recherche), Nathalie Ortar (Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement durable et de l’Energie/LAET-ENTPE), Yann Philippe Tastevin (CNRS/LISST Toulouse), Marie Thébaud-Sorger (CNRS/Centre Koyré), Hélène Vérin (CNRS/Centre Koyré), Koen Vermeir (CNRS/SPHERE), Catherine Verna (Univ. Paris 8, CRH), Heike Weber  (Univ. of Karlsruhe), Bing Zhao (CNRS/CRCAO).

 

Bibliographie indicative

Ken Alder, Engineering the Revolution. Arms and Enlightenment in France, 1763-1815, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1997

Janet Ambers, Holding it all together: ancient and modern approaches to joining, repair and consolidation, Londres, Archetype Publications, 2009

Elisabeth Anstett & Nathalie Ortar (dir.) La deuxième vie des objets. Recyclage et récupération dans les sociétés contemporaines. Paris, Pétra, 2015.

Arjun Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things. Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Andrea Baier, Tom Hansing, Christa Müller, Karin Werner (éd.), Die Welt reparieren. Open Source als postkapitalistische Praxis, Bielefeld, transcript, 2016.

Géraldine Barron, Edmond Pâris et l’art naval. Des pirogues aux cuirassés, à paraître

Philippe Bihouix, L’âge des low-tech : vers une civilisation techniquement soutenable, Paris, Seuil, 2014

Thierry Bonnot, La vie des objets. D’ustensiles banals à objets de collection, Paris, MSH, 2002.

Kevin Borg, Auto Mechanics: Technology and Expertise in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007

Bianca Callén, « Donner une seconde vie aux déchets électroniques. Économies informelles et innovation socio­technique des marches », Techniques & Culture n° 65-66 « Réparer le monde. Excès, reste et innovation », 2016, p. 206-219.

Annie Cheneau-Loquay, « Rôle joué par l’économie informelle dans l’appropriation des TIC en milieu urbain en Afrique de l’Ouest », Netcom, 22-1/2, 2008, p. 109-126.

Matthew B. Crawford, Éloge du carburateur. Essai sur le sens et la valeur du travail, Paris, La Découverte, 2009.

Marie-Claude Dupré, « La réparation en Afrique : un moment de la vie des objets », in Gaetano Speranza éd., Objets blessés. La réparation en Afrique, Paris, Musée du quai Branly, 2007, p. 29-37.

Lionel Dufaux, L’Amphithéâtre, la galerie et le rail. Le Conservatoire des arts et métiers, ses collections et le chemin de fer au xixesiècle, Rennes, PUR, 2017

Alexey Golubev, Olga Smolyak, « Making selves through making things. Soviet do‑it‑yourself culture and practices of late Soviet subjectivation”, Cahiers du monde russe, n°54/3-4, 2013, p. 517-541.

Marie Goyon “L’obsolescence déprogrammée : prendre le parti des choses pour prendre le parti des hommes. Fablabs, makers et repair cafés”, Techniques & Culture n° 65-66 « Réparer le monde. Excès, reste et innovation », 2016, p. 235-239.

Jamie Furniss, Frédéric Joulian, Yann Philippe Tastevin dir., dossier « Réparer le monde : Excès, reste et innovation », Techniques & Culture, n°65, 2016

Liliane Hilaire-Pérez, La pièce et le geste. Artisans, marchands et savoirs techniques à Londres au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Albin Michel, collection « L’Évolution de l’Humanité », 2013

Steven J. Jackson, « Rethinking Repair », in Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski, Kirsten Foot (ed.), Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality and Society, Cambridge MA, MIT Press, 2014, p. 221-239

François Jarrige (dir.), Dompter Prométhée. Technologies et socialismes à l’âge romantique (1820-1870), Besançon, Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2016

Igor Kopytoff, “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process”, in Arjun Appadurai (ed.), op. cit., p. 64-91.

Stefan Krebs, Gabriele Schabacher, Heike Weber (éd.), Kulturen des Reparierens. Dinge-Wissen-Praktiken, Bielefeld, Transcript, 2018.

Baptiste Monsaingeon, Homo détritus, Paris, Seuil, 2017.

Vance Packard, The Waste Makers, D. McKay Co., 1960.

Paulette Roulon-Doko, « Les mots de la réparation » in Gaetano Speranza éd., Objets blessés. La réparation en Afrique, Paris, Musée du quai Branly, 2007, p. 19-23.

Yvan Schulz, « Réassemblages marginaux au cœur de la « Mecque du hardware » », Techniques & Culture, 67, 2017, p. 84-99

Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Cars for Comrades. The life of the Soviet Automobile, Ithaca, Londres, Cornell University Press, 2008

Giles Slade, Made to Break. Technology and Obsolescence in America, Harvard, Harvard University Press, 2007

Gaetano Speranza éd., Objets blessés. La réparation en Afrique, Paris, Musée du quai Branly, 2007

Yann Philippe Tastevin, Autorickshaw : émergence et recomposition d’une filière entre l’Inde, l’Égypte et le Congo,  Paris, éditions Karthala, collection « Terre et gens d’Islam », sous presse

Yann Philippe Tastevin, « Des chars à bœufs aux plateformes mobiles de forage », Techniques & Culture, 67 | 2017, 196-211

Hélène Vérin, La gloire des ingénieurs. L’intelligence technique du XVI e au XVIII e siècle, Paris, Albin Michel, 1993.

Charles Warner, Paul Phillips, André Santos, Bianca Pimenta, « Evaluation of zero waste places projects 2009–2010 in England », Proceedings of the Institution of Civil EngineersWaste and Resource Management, vol. 168, 2015, p. 14-25.

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