Retiree Restores Antique Books in His Workshop
By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter
Published December 26, 2012, 4:00 pm; revised April 2017
Joseph Ziemba is proof of the old saying: “One man’s trash is another’s treasure.”
In this era of electronic books, Ziemba searches for antiquarian books with broken bindings and soiled pages and restores them in his attic workshop.
“I’m the old bookbinder in the attic,” Ziemba chuckled.
Even his tools are old. On a wooden sewing frame is a hefty volume titled A Copious and Critical Latin-English Lexicon, published in 1858 in both English and Latin. Ziemba has separated the book into sections called signatures and is painstakingly resewing each with needle and thread.
Another volume that Ziemba has reglued with archival wheat paste is gripped in a backing vise. A Victorian iron press applies pressure to a third book that’s further along in the restoration process.
Most of the books he restores are family Bibles. One of the oldest books he’s restored—a “decrepit” 1626 edition of The Scottish Book of Common Prayer—was a prototype that sparked a revolt. King Charles I attempted to force the English prayer book onto the Scottish Presbyterians. During a church service in Edinburgh, a woman pitched the prayer book at the minister, starting the revolt that eventually cost the king his head.
Ziemba buys rare books online, then restores and resells them to collectors. Cradling an 1850 first-edition David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, he explained how he cleaned the intricate, illustrated plates by soaking the book in a chlorine-based safe bleach. To further protect the volume from the environment, he crafted an archival clamshell box.
He also created an archival box for the Journal of Reverend John D. McCarty which was later published and sold through the Clark County Genealogical Society as an important piece of Vancouver history. The first missionary Episcopal priest in the Washington Territory, McCarty preached at Fort Vancouver in the 1850s, helped found St. Luke’s Episcopal in Vancouver, and was the first permanent rector of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland. Both churches still thrive. (The Genealogical Society's publication is titled St. Luke’s Parish Register: The Diaries of Rev. John McCarty, 1853-1868 and Rev. Albert Nicholson 1868-1886.)
Ziemba’s interest in working with paper harkens to Catholic school, where he says “the nuns always had me cut things out.”
While working in Washington, DC, as a certified public accountant 40 years ago, Ziemba learned book conservation through workshops at the Smithsonian Institution and began restoring books as a hobby. Along the way, Ziemba learned how to make marbled paper, marbled paper boxes, and journals he sells at bazaars. Like everything in Ziemba’s work, paper marbling is an ancient craft.
“The Turkish marbled paper,” Ziemba said, noting that the art developed in the Ottoman Empire of Turkey and other places.
From North Carolina to Vancouver, Washington, he taught bookbinding and paper-marbling classes.
To learn more about Ziemba’s work, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.