Removing old newspapers from bound volumes (disbinding)…

February 19, 2009 by  
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At some point along your collecting journey you may have purchased a bound volume because a particular issue was of interest, not the entire lot of 100 or more found within. Perhaps you’ve given though to taking the volume apart to secure that single issue but were afraid to cause damage. It can be done and with some practice you can find the process that works best for your particular volume.

There were hundreds of ways newspapers were bound and each requires a personalized approach, but in general almost all have glue at the spine with various strings interwoven among the various issues. Most 18th & 19th century volumes used glue which is water soluble so Ideally it’s good to apply warm water to the exposed spine (scrape off as much of the leather as possible) and as the glue softens, scrape it off. This can take 30 minutes or more so it requires some patience. It may leave minor evidence of of water staining at the spine but the alternative of not removing glue is often leaving chunks of the spine with volume which is much more damaging.

Then use an exacto-type knife and cut as many of the strings as possible. Typically there are 4 or 5 cords running across the width of the spine around which the smaller strings, which run lengthwise down the volume, are wound. Cut at both sides of these cords and it will fall away. Then carefully lift each issue and “peel” them off much like pages of a tablet, keeping the knife handy to cut strings as they become more exposed.

Typically the first several issues will have some damage at the spine but the remaining issues should remove more cleanly as you get the knack of the process. Best to start work on the issues as far removed from the issue you are wanting so that by time you get to your special issue you’ll have the experimenting work behind you.

Twentieth century volumes are more problematic in that the glue is often not water soluble so softening & scraping away the glue may not be an option, but give it a try anyway. In such cases  be as diligent as possible in cutting the strings, and as each issue reveals itself in the “peeling away” process you’ll discover the process of how the volume was bound & consequently the tricks of how best to remove the remaining issues with little or no damage.

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3 Responses to “Removing old newspapers from bound volumes (disbinding)…”

  1. Todd Andrlik on February 19th, 2009 9:19 pm

    Very helfpul. Thanks.

  2. land234 on May 15th, 2009 9:38 am

    How were these originally sent out to the public? were they individual copies, that were later bound as a group? I would then assume a copy that was never placed in a book would be worth more…unless they were always in book form.

  3. TimHughes on May 15th, 2009 10:30 am

    It was typical for libraries to subscribe to newspapers from their community or other metro areas. At given periods they would have their subscription copies bound by a professional bindery and the resulting volumes would be stored on the library shelves for patrons to use.
    Yes, an issue which was never bound would be considered more desirable as it would be in its original state, although no more genuine than one from a bound volume. Because most such loose issues purchased at a corner newsstand have long since disappeared, most issues on the market today are from bound volumes, again enhancing the value of never-bound issues when they are found.

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