Communion Of Dreams

Preserving the very worst.

In the 8 years of this blog, I’ve written about book conservation a fair amount. It is, after all, my profession. It’s something I truly love, take pride in, and sharing some aspects of my work now and again gives me joy. Several times I’ve posted a number of images along with a description of the work, and there are other such photo essays on my business site.

Today I am going to do so again. But this time I am going to put all the images and technical description ‘below the fold’, as it were.


Because I don’t want to see them when I am casually scrolling through my blog.

Because it was probably the most difficult job I’ve ever worked on, in 23 years of private practice.

No, not technically. Emotionally.

Because this is the book: Adolf Hitler, bilder aus dem leben des führers (pictures from the life of the Führer).

Yeah, Nazi propaganda from 1936.

A couple of things I want to say. One, I’m not Jewish. Two, to the best of my knowledge, none of my family were ever put in a concentration camp. Three, I have nothing against Germany or the German people — in fact, I have an undergrad degree in German, can still speak/read it somewhat, was an exchange student there back in 1974, and have since enjoyed going back there as a tourist.

But Nazism, Nazi ideology, and Hitler all stir feelings of deep loathing in me. I can’t give an explanation of it beyond my belief that Hitler and what he wrought represent the very worst of human nature.

But while that is the case, I also believe that the horror which is/was Nazism cannot be easily dismissed as aberrant. If one of the most humane and enlightened societies known — one which gave birth to brilliant scientists, philosophers, and artists — can turn into the Third Reich, then any society can. That is a lesson which we cannot afford to forget. (Which is perhaps an odd thing for me to say, given my personal history.)

So I understand the importance of preserving the artifacts of that history. And so understanding, felt that it was my responsibility to use the skills I have acquired to that end, no matter how distasteful the task. It was my small tribute to all who resisted, who persevered, who fought.

Find the documentation of the work below:

An important thing to remember is that in 1936, Germany was still very much recovering from the Great Depression. So even items of propaganda were frequently made using low-quality materials. This was most definitely the case with this book, which explains the condition of it when it came to me for conservation work.

Here’s what it looked like when I got it:


The spine material was supposed to look like vellum. The cover material was supposed to look like leather. And the lettering was supposed to look like gold. The spine and cover materials were actually poor quality paper, and the lettering a brass alloy. And the cover boards were a very low quality pressboard made of straw. Here’s a shot of that material:


And the book wasn’t sewn together. It was stapled together, through a lightweight cloth mesh. Here’s a picture of that:


Also note the fractured pages. They are a medium-weight stock, and the binding was too stiff, not allowing the pages to turn easily. So as the paper began to break down due to high acid/lignen content, these kinds of breaks occurred. Most of the book had this kind of damage.

Here’s another picture of the spine, with the cover removed, which more clearly shows the staples:


So, I removed all the staples, detached the mesh, and cleaned off the old dried adhesive. Then it was a matter of doing the necessary page and signature (gatherings of pages) repairs, using wheatpaste and Kozo paper. Here are the finished signatures, stacked up and waiting.


Then it was time to punch new sewing holes in each of the signatures, and sew up the binding using a conservation chainstitch structure. Here’s a detail image of that process:


One interesting point about this: note that you can see the needle & thread emerging from a folded tab. Usually, books are made up of sections of folded sheets, with an equal length to the sheets on all the pages. However, because this book had a lot of images pasted down on the pages, that caused the text block to be thicker than normal. This is one quick & easy way to adjust for that, though it makes the structure somewhat more fragile by creating a hard edge which the pages have to move against. That was one of the causes of the page fracturing noted above.

Here is the text block after the sewing was finished:


And here it is after it has been glued up with archival adhesive:


At the top of this section I mentioned that 1936 Germany was still recovering from the Depression, and that explained the poor quality materials used in this book. Here is another example. Take a look at this page of the book:


Those look like black & white photographic prints, right? They even have a bit of a glossy sheen (which you can see in other images as well), typical of photographic prints of the era.

But they’re not. They’re just printed onto a slick clay-loaded stock, to make them appear to be prints. That image of the airplane came loose while I was working on the book. Here it is by itself:


And here’s the back of it:


I remounted it after I had the other page repairs done.

As noted, the original boards were made of straw pressboard (a type of very cheap cardboard used at the time), and were warped and damaged. More than that, they were flimsy enough that they wouldn’t provide support to the still-fragile text block pages. Discussion with the client resulted in the decision to lift off the cover stock, and remount it onto a completely new cover made of sturdy archival bookboard and bookcloth, which would provide much great protection to the textblock. Here is the remounted cover:


That was cleaned up further and given a protective coating of micro-crystalline wax, then the text block was mounted in the cover:


One last thing I want to share. This is the last page of the book:


“1945 Hitler ist Kaput” (Hitler is finished).  Looks like a German hand, but it is hard to be sure. I do know that the book is stamped ’30 April 1945′ when it was added to the MU collection — the day of Hitler’s death.

Seems fitting.


Jim Downey


7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great write-up and completely agree with your sentiments. About the book and worth mentioning. The images were collected separately and tipped in by the owner. Description of this on verso of picture of the plane over Nuremberg. We had a similar book come through conservation at Syracuse. In the case of that one, the text was serialized and the cover likely ordered/purchased separately after the book was complete and than all delivered to the binder. The staples were very common having been developed in the 19th century. If paper was decent and staples didn’t rust, it was as strong as sewn and opened as well, unlike oversewing…

In terms of your sentiments on Nazism, the Buchbinderlehrling (a monthly magazine for apprentices) documents that process chillingly, bit by bit. I have the run from 1927-43 and described it in broad strokes at .

Thank you for sharing, working on paper like that the worst!

Comment by Peter Verheyen

Peter, thank you for your comments and the additional historical information/context. I’ve always held your work in high regard and I’m flattered by having you stop by.

Comment by James Downey

[…] I said this recently: […]

Pingback by “A lesson we cannot afford to forget.” | Communion Of Dreams

[…] than the Hitler book, it’s been a while since I shared any pics of my conservation work. So, here’s […]

Pingback by Preserving something nicer. | Communion Of Dreams

There are so many stories going on in this post. How hard it must be to use such beautiful skills to mend together something so terrible. Thanks for sharing and for helping to preserve some pages of history that many would prefer just to lose.

Comment by Bull Dyker

Well, thank you for that sentiment, and taking the time to say so.

Comment by James Downey

[…] As I’ve said previously, about another historical artifact: […]

Pingback by Cold comfort. | Communion Of Dreams

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