“Scotch” Tape on Dust Jackets

For a very difficult dust jacket repair…

I received a dust jacket restoration job for Steinback’s The Grapes of Wrath. It was in pieces and had a ton of scotch tape all over the joints and edges of the outside!

self adhesive tape on the front of the dust jacket

The front of the dust jacket for The Grapes of Wrath complete with self-adhesive tape to the front, just as it arrived in the shop.

Yup…it’s the good side. It had been on there long enough to really adhere to the surface which has a picture of an old scene with a landscape and people and Model T cars. In other words, I had to remove the tape very carefully so the picture was not pulled off with the tape. Also, I could not use a crepe rubber block to get the residue off that sometimes remains when you remove the tape.The adhesive of old tape if left alone can yellow and migrate into the paper permanently staining it. To add complication, there have been many proprietary formulations made over the years by many manufacturers so there is not a single solution. Every piece requires testing to see what will be the most effective solution in any particular instance.

self-adhesive tape on dust jackets

The reverse side of the dust jacket had tape on it as well!

I have removed lots of tape from dust jackets but it’s usually on the back….that’s not so scary. I was going to have to remove the tape very slowly. Heat often will soften the adhesive, but in this case it had little effect. So I used my invention of a ” home fume chamber” to soften the adhesive on the tape so it would come off without pulling up the cover picture. This is a very “fancy contraption”. I use a large photo tray that Jack had forever. I generally use amyl acetate (used as artificial banana flavoring, but hazardous in high concentrations) to lift tape from paper to save what is under it. It is a liquid that does not harm the paper but it smells and has fumes so you have to use a respirator and gloves. I put it outside during the day if it is warm to get any fumes to dissipate. Instead of using a brush and painting it on the tape to soften it, I brush the amyl acetate onto pieces of blotter that I lay on the floor of the tray and then lay the dust jacket on top and saturate another piece of blotter to lay on top and allow the fumes to soften the adhesive rather than applying the liquid to the paper itself. Cover the whole tray in a clear garbage bag and use a rubber band to tie it up tightly. I have to really soak the blotter and keep checking that it has not dried out. I also want to keep checking to make sure that the dust jacket is not sticking to anything. This may take a few days. Each morning I would open the fume chamber up and check a piece of the tape and some of the pieces would lift off pretty easily. When I got to the stubborn parts then I brushed more acetate on the blotter and positioned the pieces to touch the remaining tape. At the end I even brushed some onto the tape itself. This is tricky as I don’t want to damage the dust jacket with amyl acetate. Most of the time it doesn’t bother the paper, but I always have to make sure by doing a test on a tiny corner on the back.

Getting the tape off is not my most difficult job. After the tape carrier comes off (the plastic strips) I will find a sticky residue where the tape was. Amyl acetate will remove the tape carrier and leave the residue.

fuming to remove scotch tape

Fuming the dust jacket with amyl acetate softens the adhesive allowing the plastic carrier to be removed.

tape residue and cellulose

The tape carrier has been removed. Now the softened adhesive residue in lifted by dusting with cellulose powder.

I can’t rub this residue off as it will de-laminate the paper and take off the picture that I am trying to save. What I usually do at this point is carefully lift off as much of the sticky stuff with tweezers and a tiny spatula. It is like trying to pick off gelatin or rubber cement. If the paper will take it I can scrape it lightly with my #10 scalpel blade. I have to go slow. Then I dust the areas that are sticky with cellulose powder which absorbs the remaining residue. I lay it on kind of evenly and generously. The next step is critical. I have to very carefully and slowly scrape the sticky remains of the tape residue off and do it gradually so I don’t tear the image or remove it altogether with the blade. This takes time and concentration. I keep adding tiny amounts of cellulose powder and scraping away residue until it is no longer sticky. When it is as clean as I can make it, a very soft brush will brush away the remaining powder from the surface. The whole process is pretty dicey. The areas that have been taped are, of course, the most flaky and fragile. Careful and cautious handling are required to avoid additional loss of material.

Repairing the remaining paper……..

When I’m through with the fuming and residue removal I have a broken and scary dust jacket with missing parts and chips and uneven edges. I use lens tissue and/or tengujo (very thin Japanese tissues) on the back to hold all the pieces together. We make our own paste in the shop with wheat starch cooked with water, thickened and cooled. It gets made a couple of times a week as we both use a lot of it and it doesn’t keep well. Jack also uses SCMC to fix tears and fill voids on pages when he is doing paper repair. I cannot use it on dust jackets if I have to do any in-painting because it is more water soluble than paste. My repairs will then move around and come off from the moisture of the paint. Not Good! SCMC is good to use if I’m worried about tide-lining as it is a drier adhesive. (More on that at a later time…) Wheat starch is very strong and holds up well to in-painting.

There is a lot of information available on how to repair tears and fills with wheat paste and strips of lens tissue so I will just go through it quickly. I use a thin brush to mark off narrow strips of tissue and then pull it apart to make long fettuccine-like strands with fibrous edges. I usually put a small amount of paste on a square of blotter and brush it out to remove some moisture and make it a bit drier and then brush it over the strip of tissue and lay it across the tear length-wise to join the edges together. I use release paper over the repair to burnish it down with the bone folder. When I have a big patch to fill, I lay the tissue over the area and trace it out with a damp liner brush and wet tear it to size and shape. I paste off the edges and lay the tissue over the void and burnish it so that it is snug over the hole. Then I’m ready to turn it over to add the Japanese tissue patches to the front.

I usually make patches of kitakata, which is a good all-around Japanese tissue to fill in voids. I can get it to lay flat with some effort. Most often I press it out between mylar and Hollytex in the book press. So…..I lay my tissue over the missing area and trace it out inside the hole so it doesn’t lap over onto the front. I want just the tiniest bit of overlap on the front or none at all. I wet tear the piece and paste off the lens tissue from the front of the dust jacket, laying the tissue over the hole and pressing it down very well. I continue repairing all the missing places until the dust jacket is all whole again. If the dust jacket is made of thicker paper then I have to use two layers so the repaired area matches the thickness of the original paper. Here is an important trick. Rather than putting the jacket in the press flat to dry, I dry it in shape with the flaps folded in position. Failing to pre-shape the dust jacket in this way, but instead drying it flat, means that the repair flakes and cracks when it is finally folded and it would need to be re-repaired!  Drying the flaps of the dust jacket formed to final shape prevents this. After it is dry, I can put it in the press with a very light misting, sandwiched between Hollytex and mylar on the outside and it will come right up to snuff! The pressure better melds the new material with old making the repaired areas less apparent. Jack uses a similar technique when he is finishing up a leather reback to marry the new leather to the old, avoiding disfiguring bumps and lumps. I have an easier time doing the in-painting of the new material if the dust jacket is pressed flat in this way and the repair paper pre-sized.

The in-painting…

This is the most fun for me being a painter before I fixed dust jackets. Having skill with rendering and matching colors speeds up the progress. I try to go as slow as possible to only in-paint the new material and just the smallest part of the original to make it blend together. I use Golden’s Acrylic paint in tubes so it is the thickest and is archival. I have learned that the drier I have the paint the better the results. (I will talk about in-painting more on another blog.) When I mix the color I have to make it quite a bit lighter so that it will dry evenly. Acrylics do not dry the color they are when they are wet—they tend to darken. It is a huge pain! I have learned how to adjust them.  In my own paintings I work in oil, which doesn’t have this color shift problem, rather than acrylic. But oil paints are not suitable for archival work on paper. You can see from the finished photograph that the color can still can come out fairly even and match well.

The dust jacket will need a final pressing when it is only slightly damp or it will stick. Use Hollytex! On dust jackets that have shiny or glossy surfaces I can buff the front with a very soft cotton cloth. If I’m careful and use firm pressure I can get the acrylics to shine up and actually match the texture of the glossy original material. If I don’t get the results I want with a uniform texture I use thinned acrylic gloss medium in layers, buffing between each layer. It evens out the finish which is so important to harmonizing the repair with the original. This does not happen on all jackets, but enough of them to try it. Dust jackets have been printed on all kinds of paper stock and some is better than others to work on. I have to go slow and test all along the way to use whatever techniques produce a repair that best matches the original material.

repaired dust jacket

The completed dust jacket repair for The Grapes of Wrath. All tears and rips as well as losses have been repaired.

One last word for now on finishing up. Rightly so, dealers and collectors most often use commercial mylar dust jacket covers. But many times we find someone has folded them too tightly to the dust jacket and actually caused additional damage along the edges or the head and tail of the spine. That will need additional attention to be flattened and repaired. It is better to be certain that the cover is folded a fraction oversize, keeping the crease of the mylar away from the jacket. The repaired or restored dust jacket in its properly folded mylar cover will then last another hundred years.

Here is another dust jacket for The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Suess that came into the shop in fragments. No tape this time so it was a simpler job—just paper repair to mend the tears and fill the losses as well as in-painting to replace the missing image on the new material.

fragments of dust jacket

This dust jacket for The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Suess didn’t have tape, but it did come in many pieces and a few missing areas as well.


repaired dust jacket

The completed repair of the dust jacket for 500 Hats.

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