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Bookbinder restores history in his St. Petersburg shop

ST. PETERSBURG

When Rita Dara walked into Griffin Bookbinding on Central Avenue, she was pretty sure it was worth the drive from Palm Harbor. When she met owner David Barry she was positive.

She had finally found the right place to restore her 1800s King James Bible.

"He cares for his work deeply. You can see that in how he handles the books," she said. "I bought a Bible from an antique store and the spine was separate from the pages. It needed a lot of work."

Now the leather is polished and the book is strongly intact, yet it doesn't look new or like it has been restored, she said. Though the antique dealer suggested she just use some Super Glue on the spine, Dara is glad she called around to bookstores and heard about Barry.

"This is something I've done since I was 16," said Barry, who started at that age as an apprentice in his native Wales. "Since I've been in my store I'm getting a lot more local customers."

Before moving in September to 7212 Central Ave., (727) 254-7962, he practiced his craft at Salt Creek Artworks. Most of his business is from fine-book dealers around the country, but one local customer is the Tampa Bay History Center in Tampa.

Barry, 48, is working on approximately 50 maps, some of them 500 years old, on loan from a private collection for an exhibition titled "Charting the Land of Flowers: 500 years of Florida Maps." It opens in September to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon's naming of Florida. Barry is repairing tears, removing tape, patching holes with rice paper and removing mold.

"If you overtreat a map, it looks almost too new and you can actually damage it," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center. "He's got a good touch. He's got all kinds of tools and the expertise to know what to do and what not to do."

Barry is one of only a handful of experts in map restoration in Florida and the only one the museum works with, Kite-Powell said. He recently met Barry at an antiquarian book fair.

"It was one of our best finds," he said.

Whether a map, document or book, a major part of most projects is deacidifying the paper. The acid in certain papers causes them to turn yellow and brittle.

"Removing it can't erase the damage done so far, but it can slow the rate of decay," Barry said.

Deacidification charges start at $35 a page while binding starts at $65. Renewal or replacement of the leather or other covering material on the spine or joints of a book starts at $95. These are general prices, but since each project is unique, costs are, too.

If a book is too costly or damaged for a customer to repair, Barry can make a clamshell that holds the book inside more like a box, yet has a spine and resembles a book when it's on a shelf. He has made custom clamshells to store and showcase newspaper articles, documents, pictures and Broadway playbills.

Clamshells made of book cloth cost $120 and up while leather versions are $145 and up.

About 65 percent of Barry's work is restoration of rare antiquarian books from online clients and longtime collectors (griffinbookbinding.com). But he's glad business and foot traffic are up now that he has a storefront.

"I'm getting at least one large family Bible a month now," he said. "They are very interesting because they were the only source of record keeping for a long time. All the family records such as births, marriages and deaths were entered into the Bibles."

Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at kssmith@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8785 or

Bookbinder restores history in his St. Petersburg shop 12/11/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 5:14pm]
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