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Dahlonega woman continues the art of bookbinding
Amanda Buck checks the condition of a Bible printed in 1812. - photo by Tom Reed

In a rustic Dahlonega cabin overlooking miles of beautiful Northeast Georgia Mountains lives a rare talent.

Amanda Buck, a fine bookbinder and book conservator, easily is becoming the last of her kind.

"Fine bookbinders are a dying breed because all of the fine bookbinding schools in England have closed, save for one in London," Buck said. "There really isn't any money in this profession anymore as it is now an art form rather than a career."

A history major at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Buck had not considered bookbinding until she heard of the profession's scarcity.

"My father was doing exhibits for the Smithsonian and one of his contacts there told him that America needs properly trained fine bookbinders and conservators," she said. "There was a school over in England that he highly recommended. I applied and was accepted."

Choosing her program was important - not every bookbinding method is the same.

"English traditional hand binding methods are the best in the world. I had students in my class from Africa, Asia and Europe," said Buck.

After her 1992 graduation from Guildford College of Technology in Surrey, England, Buck partnered with master binder Richard Lamb from 1993 to 2003, bringing a decade's worth of knowledge with her to Kentucky, her home before she settled in Dahlonega in June.

"This technique is not something you can learn overnight," Buck said. "I've had people ask me if I could teach them my trade in a short workshop. It took me over twelve years to discover what I know."

While there are many bookbinders out there, Buck warns against using the wrong ones.

"There are very few highly skilled fine bookbinders and conservators working independently," she said. "Be wary of people calling themselves ‘bookbinders,' especially those who have taken quickie courses or are self-taught."

Not only could self-trained binders do a poor job; their untrained technique could damage your prized possession further.

"Half of the books I work on are books that have been butchered by these people - they do more damage than good," Buck said.

With so much history, Northeast Georgia gives Buck a great opportunity to widen her clientele.

"I moved here in June when I was ready to leave Kentucky. My brother, who has been here for years, convinced me to give this area a try - I'm glad I did," she said.

Buck works from home, using old fashioned methods and tools to refinish assignments. One of the most imperative aspects of her work is using an open hinge.

"Proper hinging of the text to its cover is vital. I always use an open cloth hinge," she said. "This is important because most bookbinders have been taught to bind books using a closed hinge. However, a closed hinge is inflexible and pulls on the text, breaking quickly if the book is used often."

With a flexible hinge, book collectors can be less afraid of actually using and enjoying their relic. In fact, a book ages more quickly if it remains unused.

"Books should be handled, not put on a shelf and forgotten. They need to be dusted and opened once in a while," Buck said. "Leather bindings especially need to be handled if you are not going to oil them regularly. The natural oils on your fingers and hands will help to keep the leather from drying out."

Though Buck can do many things from restoring ancient texts to rebinding new ones, she usually works with valuable books no longer in print.

"I work primarily on rare books and heirlooms. These books cannot be replaced. They can be digitized, but people still want to hold onto them because of their value or the attachment they have to them," she said.

While she doesn't have a favorite project, Buck loves working on books dating from the 16th to 18th centuries.

"I love a challenge. Last year I conserved some bindings for the University of Cincinnati Rare Book Department. They were Mathematic and Geometry books in Latin that dated back to the 17th century. I had to lift tightback spines in order to reback them, keeping the original boards and spines," said Buck.

Though her profession depends upon refurbishing old or damaged books, Buck is not against digitizing newer texts.

"I am all for putting books on a computer as our natural resources dwindle," she said. "However, older books need to be preserved. They are apart of history."

Spending anywhere from hours to days on each refurbishment, Buck forms a bond with every book restored.

"I deeply care about each book I work on. Whether it has no value or is extremely valuable, I give them all the same kind of detailed attention. I work more hours on each book than I charge for in the end," she said.

Book restoration is not as expensive as many predict, though extensive projects cost more.

"It doesn't have to cost hundreds of dollars," she said. "Simple repairs start at $20, while basic restorations begin at $100. Large, complicated leather restorations and fine bindings start around $200. New fine cloth bindings with a hand-tooled 22 karat gold leather label are $125."

Being one of the last fine bookbinders, historians and collectors alike are asked to take advantage of her talent while they still can.

"There are those that prefer to make new fine bindings and those that prefer to do conservation and restoration bindings. I fall into the latter," she said. "I love to keep as much of the original binding as possible, which retains the integrity of the book."

Whether preserving an heirloom, refurbishing an antique or rebinding a collectible, Amanda Buck does her work cautiously and meticulously, loving every moment.

"You cannot do this unless you love it," she said. "It is a dying art, and I hope to continue to working at my craft for many more years to come."



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