Luther-book restoration

Preserving precious book collections

The year is 1764. The French Jesuit Desbillions fled to Mannheim in the face of the prohibition of his order. In his luggage, he has 6,000 books and manuscripts in both Latin and French. During the 25 years he spent in Mannheim up to the time of his death, he continuously expanded his library. Today, the 16,000 books he collected are among the oldest works of the University Library in Mannheim. To preserve these precious treasures, they need to be professionally restored.

Susanne Kaerner holds one of Desbillions’ books in her hands. She is a master bookbinder and leads the book restoration workshop at the University Library of Mannheim. The holdings extend to 60,000 volumes, including the valuable Desbillions collection. This makes the library an important resource for researchers and teachers alike. In 2017, 500 years after the Reformation, the library’s historical books still bear impressive witness to the triumphant progress of book printing that took place at the time. Preserving them for future generations is the goal of passionate restorers like Susanne Kaerner. “Nonwovens are a valuable aid in the restoration of books”, she explained. “With their help, these precious works will remain available to readers for many years to come.”

Susanne Kaerner

Bookbinder Susanne Kaerner.

How does the process work? The thin slurry used in papermaking is largely made up of water. The rest consists of fibers. Paper can be cleaned with water. That is why Kaerner is bathing a 16th century print in a large, shallow bath in three passes, each of 20 minutes’ duration.

Now significantly lighter, cleaner and stronger, the page is then laid on a sheet of nonwoven material on a paper drying rack. If a tear in one of a book’s pages needs to be closed, it is coated with glue and repaired using Japanese paper. The page is then covered with a polyester nonwoven and weighted down while it dries. The advantage of this is that the polyester fiber prevents the pages from sticking together.

They need to be structurally stable with a smooth surface and edges as well as being temperature-resistant. This is because ironing can also be used to dry a page that has been glued. The fibers must remain smooth under load and the image of the fiber must not be reproduced on the restored paper

Kaerner places high demands on the nonwovens she uses

“National and university libraries have asked for nonwovens to use in the restoration of antique books. The nonwovens selected for this application are normally used to protect against the ingress of moisture in electrical cables”, said Hans Henkes, Product Manager Industrial Nonwovens at Freudenberg Performance Materials. Among other institutions, Freudenberg nonwovens are in use at the Austrian National Library and the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, as well as at the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne and the Sprengel Museum in Hanover.

The Sites of Freudenberg Performance Materials