NOTES FROM THE PRESERVATION OFFICE
Some years ago in New York City, two "high-bred" women at a theater were
overheard talking about art theft. One, looking very much like a turret, due to
the shape of her hat and the manner in which she maneuvered her head, turned
to the other and fired-off. "Well, dear, I can understand why someone might steal
a diamond and expect to get away with it. Diamonds can always be cut into
smaller diamonds and sold." She intoned with a knowing air. "But what, dear,
tell me," she continued, "does one do with a stolen painting?" "One," responded
the other, matter-of-factly, "simply cuts it up into vignettes!"
You might say that the topic of this month's article is 'Tell me, dear, what does
one do with a stolen book?" This is no guide to book theft. Library patrons are
creative enough to deal with this problem themselves. Rather, this is a quick look
at what preservation has to do with stolen materials. The two women were cor-
rect to some degree. Stolen materials are almost always mutilated. Mutilation
takes the form of obliterating ownership marks, ripping out magnetic detection
strips, or slash-and-dash mutilation.
Mutilation of the first order obliteration and removal of detection strips is of-
ten hidden in the sense that the Preservation Office never sees the item. Obvious-
ly, repair of a stolen item depends in large part upon recovery of the item. Usual-
ly, we see only the covers, just as the two women at the theater saw only the
picture frame. A stolen book might well be an insect, moved on to a higher form
of life, leaving an old skin behind.
Mutilation of the second order, slash-and-dash technique involves removal of a
page, plate, or picture from within a book or page. It is mutilation in the ordinary
sense. Tools of the trade involve scissors, X-acto knives, wet string and fingers.
There is a definite economy to this form of mutilation. Theft is always less expen-
sive than photocopying. Additionally, image quality is often better in the original
than in a photocopy. This is especially trie of art and theater materials. But, theft
and mutilation of this order may also be used to delay the competition, say in
medical, law and business schools where this type of damage often occurs.
Fortunately, protecting these materials in (locked) stacks is not the work of pres-
ervation. Unfortunately, dealing with the damaged materials not adequately pro-
tected is the work of preservation. The work is relatively simple. To begin, we
assume that there will be no way to adequately recover color materials, oversized
materials or the image quality of photographs with the technology available to
us. These books have to be repaired as well as possible and returned to the col-
lection either as is, or with a reduced photocopy. Another option is to acquire a
replacement copy. Many times, however, the replacement will soon be mutilated
also. For standard size, black and white printed pages, the Conservation Unit,
with the assistance of Inter-Library Loan, locates a copy of the damaged volume.
The missing pages are then photocopied onto acid-free paper, and tipped into the
book where the originals would have been. Often, however, the damage to the
volume goes far beyond the simple removal of a page. The process of cutting or
tearing a page or plate from a book many times causes extensive damage to the
rest of the volume. Pages are loosened, sewing is cut, or the case may be dam-
aged. If more than two or three consecutive pages are removed, the replacement
pages can not be securely tipped-in and the book must be totally rebound which
in itself further chips away at what is left of the original volume.
Mutilation of books by the removal of plates and maps, especially from items
printed before 1820, are virtually impossible to repair. The remaining copies are
many times too fragile to reproduce, or are missing the same parts. Our only op-
tion with these materials may be to restrict access or continue to lose essential ele-
ments of these books to those who are concerned with only a quick profit, deco-
rating their wall, or saving a little time in line at the copier.
Erich Kesse and John Freund