Woman adds chapters to lives of aging books


With care, even tenderness, Thelma Dorsey lifts a volume from a stack of aging books in her workshop.

In better times it was a fine book, a leather-bound ledger, with each page written by hand in an elegant, flowing script. But now the cover is ragged and flaking, the spine is broken and the book hangs together by only a few threads.

"These are for the Cecil County Historical Society, old ledgers," Mrs. Dorsey says as she slowly turns the pages.

She closes the book, reaches across the workbench for a strip of material and drapes it across the cover.

"This color will blend pretty good," she says. "That's the color I'm going to use to put the new spine in."

Thelma Dorsey, owner and chief book restorer at the Save-A-Book Bindery on Sandy Hook Road in Street, takes old and broken books and gives them a new life.

Depending on the condition of the book, it may need resewing, new covers or a new spine, or reattachment of the spine and covers.

"It's very rewarding when you take something -- like an old Bible -- and turn it into something that's usable," Mrs. Dorsey says.

Now she's working on several old family Bibles, a collection of old books on the Civil War and several volumes of the minutes of the United States Maritime Commission.

Her biggest problem when working with the old books, she says, is to disguise the new material she's adding.

"Sometimes I'll dye and I'll re

dye," she says. "I'll dirty it. I'll try everything to try to get it to blend."

The Save-A-Book Bindery is a family enterprise. Mrs. Dorsey's nephews, Clark and Jerry Ickes, Jerry's wife, Linda, and her sister, Lorayne Ickes, work with her.

Although the Save-A-Book Bindery is one of the few binderies that does book restoration on the East Coast, the company also does as much new work as old. Some of the new books bound here include dissertations, journals, magazines, law briefs, portfolios, music books and diaries. Mrs. Dorsey started the company with her late husband, Deke, in 1985, after the bindery she had worked for in Baltimore, Jos. Ruzicka Inc., merged with another company and moved out of state.

The Dorseys bought the machinery Mrs. Dorsey had been using and started their own bindery. Their company was just gaining momentum when Mr. Dorsey died in November 1987, in the middle of their first large order from the Johns Hopkins University to bind dissertations.

Mrs. Dorsey's sister and nephews came and helped her finish the order. "They really kept me going. They didn't give me time to mourn," she says. "They said, 'You don't have time to sit around. You've got to keep this going. If JHU wants them, JHU gets them.'

Mrs. Dorsey has resisted getting the equipment to put books on microfilm. "A lot of people say, 'Yeah, you can put it on microfilm and sit there and look at it on the machine.'

"But I hope books never go out of style," she said. "There's nothing like curling up with a book, and that's about the size of it."

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