Got you covered

Paradise bookbinder brings tattered treasures back to life and keeps old-world craft alive

Bookbinder Irine Thorup tends to a stack of two-century-old books.

Bookbinder Irine Thorup tends to a stack of two-century-old books.

Old World Bookbinding

What’s going to happen to all the books? Real books, with paper pages that you turn and physical covers that wear to your touch. As the definition of the form changes to include the digital version, there are fewer physical books being printed every day, making the preservation of those used copies still in circulation more important than ever for those who still cherish them.

Irene Thorup has been restoring books for 33 years, bringing vintage copies and family heirlooms back to life at her Old World Bookbinding shop in Paradise. There aren’t many around still practicing traditional book-restoration methods, but using artisan tools and techniques Thorup has refurbished everything from 18th-century rarities to a bound set of 1911 encyclopedias for the Abbey of New Clairvaux monastery. (She also has bound CN&R archives over the years.)

A visit to Thorup’s Paradise home and place of business found her surrounded by antique books in various stages of repair, along with the impressive machines and tools she uses to fix them.

“I’ve been doing this since 1981, and it always gives me pleasure to see something I put together,” said Thorup, who, having been born and raised in Switzerland, speaks with an accent. “People just love it because it’s their treasure.”

Thorup said she started the business with her late husband, Bryce, a Paradise attorney of 35 years. And while he was alive, the couple worked together like, well, a pair of bookends.

“Bryce did the heavy things like using ‘the guillotine’ here to trim and cut, and this big book press for stamping titles and other words onto covers,” Irene said. “I was very good with my hands and did the finer restorations.”

Before he died in 2007, Bryce taught her to use the heavy machinery, and Thorup—who has three adult sons who live out of the area—has continued doing the work on her own.

She lovingly repairs or replaces the covers using cow, lamb or imitation leather, restamping any words needed. She also will iron creased pages and hand-stitch spines using fine, Irish-linen thread (which runs a whopping $89 per spool).

“Nowadays books are rarely sewn together. They are mostly glued and fall apart easily,” she lamented. “I want something to last forever and be passed down through generations.”

Most of the books are mailed to her to be repaired, then shipped back. “In 33 years the post office has never lost a book,” she said.

Thorup gets a kick out of reading the family treasures with obvious sentimental value—such as children’s books and old family cookbooks. Among the most oft-repaired books, however, are family bibles, many of which are elaborately illustrated—with old drawings of animals, plants and nature scenes. She recently did one for a father as a Christmas present to his son.

“I completely redid the cover and pasted a newer picture of Christ with a boy inside,” she said. “His wife was so happy she called almost in tears thanking me.”

Thorup’s most expensive repair was a book she created as a prop for a Ted Turner-produced movie (she declined to name the film).

“I won’t say how much I was paid for it, but it was good,” she said coyly.

Some of her most interesting jobs have been for a Chicoan who collects U.S. law books from the late-1700s to early-1800s, several featuring treaties filled with broken promises to Native Americans.

“I attached new leather covers to them but kept the original title labels and sewed old-fashioned, raised chords into the spines,” she said.

Thorup loves what she’s doing and has no plans to retire. And despite the rapid changes in the publishing industry, she said she still gets plenty of work.

“People tell me, ‘You can’t stop doing it because no one else does,’” she said. “I’ll do it as long as it gives me pleasure, and I still enjoy it.”