Background to Sussex Book Restoration

As a child, I always had an interest in history and historical artefacts. In my teens, my curiosity for ‘old things’ led to a Saturday job with a genial dealer in antiquarian books at London’s Portobello Road antique market.

Over the next five years, I handled a lot of old books and learned about the book-collecting world from my mentor. I also learned that old books quite often get damaged!

Bookbinding studies

Having completed my ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, rather than go to university I decided to apply to study bookbinding at Camberwell School of Art. The course was one of only two full-time vocational courses in the UK at that time. Sadly, there are none now to the best of my knowledge.

I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto the course and began learning the basic principals of hand bookbinding. One of my course tutors was the late world-renowned bookbinder and restorer Bernard Middleton. Middleton is viewed by many in the bookbinding world as the ‘father’ of contemporary book restoration practice.

Practical book restoration experience

After studying at Camberwell, I went on to work for a supremely talented London book restorer. His willingness to share his knowledge gave me a solid grounding in the techniques of book restoration. I worked for him for a number of months before he relocated his business to Wiltshire.

Soon after, I set myself up in business as a bookbinder in northwest London where I had grown up.

For the next five years I rebound and restored books for collectors and book dealers. I worked alone and mostly for clients two generations older than me. I enjoyed the work but the isolation and lack of youthful company started to get to me. Eventually I left the world of old books to pursue a completely unrelated career.

Sussex Book Restoration

Sixteen years later in 2001, that career came to a natural end and I returned to bookbinding. I began to re-learn many of my old skills and slowly gained a new clientele. As time progressed, I realised that my talents lay in restoring books rather than rebinding them.

I relocated to Saltdean in East Sussex in 2004. Being fortunate enough to live in a house with the space to do so, I created a small bindery in my home. I still work from there to this date.

Why I restore books

I really enjoy the challenge of restoring books. Each project is akin to a unique jigsaw puzzle. Consequently I don’t take on rebinding work anymore. I prefer to concentrate solely on the challenges of book restoration and repair.

I treat every customer’s book as if it were my own. It gives me great pleasure to see the smile on someone’s face when I return their once-battered but cherished book to them in a state where they can handle it without the risk of it falling apart in their hands.

Michael Sassen – Book Restorer