What is the Peril of Removing Unwanted Inscriptions?
Removing unwanted inscriptions in books, or covering them up, should only be considered after thorough research. Who is the author? Do they have a pen name? What was the name of their spouse, kids, illustrator, or other significant contemporary friends or colleagues? It may be a pain to do this kind of research but the alternative is simple then. Don’t remove any inscriptions.
Without research you are running the risk of destroying
important provenance points and ultimately you could lose money.
An Example of How Removing Unwanted Inscriptions can be a Bad Decision:
Here is the latest example of a book that came through my shop with this problem. The author, John D. Voelker, wrote the book under his pen name Robert Traver. The owner of the book did not know that the real name of the author was John. So, perhaps out of a misguided sense of doing the right thing, they decided to cover up the random inscription, leaving the author’s signature at the bottom of the page.
I don’t know who Mary is to John, but that would be a fun mystery to pursue for the owner of the book. It is my understanding that the book, with the signature uncovered is worth somewhere around $1,000 to $1,500 according to John Henley, a professional book appraiser in Portland Oregon. I was able to remove the two kinds of tape for about $150.
To summarize, removing unwanted inscriptions or covering them up can destroy provenance and you can lose money.
PERPETUAL CAVEAT: Never repair rare and/or scarce books. When in doubt only do preservation treatments and consult an accredited professional.