May 22, 2010

How to Preserve Antique Books

Books are unlike other antiques. Many people think that just because a book is old, that it is “worth something.” While I am one of those people who think books are always “worth something,” to collectors and potential buyers of your book, being old does not make it more desirable. Unlike other antiques such as furniture, toys, and clothing, which are used a lot over the years, the majority of books only get read a few times over the years and spend most of their time unharmed on a bookshelf. Books from the 1700s and before are prized by collectors, as well as 1st editions of books and books signed by the author. Many of us wish to preserve our books for their information and beauty, despite their lack of collector value.  

If you have a historical book or book of importance, it's best to leave this to a professional. (I mean it.)

Before you start preserving your book, decide if it is a book that you want to read a lot or not. If it is a book you will want to read a lot, consider making a digital copy of the book. You can photograph each page with a digital camera or use a photocopy machine that is designed for old books (the ones that have 2 panels to scan instead of one flat one, these can be found in large research libraries.) Once you have a digital book, you can keep it digital or print it out and put the pages into a binder.   

Before you touch your book, wash your hands and make sure they are very dry. The oils on our hands can break down the paper and inks. Some people like to wear white cotton gloves but I think that it is harder to turn pages and you are more likely to cause damage to your book.

Open your book carefully. Find two spare books and lay towels on them to hold your book slightly closed so you don’t put stress on or break the spine or binding of the book.

Go through the book and remove anything that should not be in there such as book marks, newspaper clippings, bugs, dust and dirt. You can very carefully vacuum the dust and dirt out but I find that a clean feather or never before used paint brush work very well. Be careful when turning fragile pages. You can use a loose leaf of paper to turn the pages if your book is too delicate.  

Unfold any folded pages; this can be very tedious because sometimes a lot of pages are “dog eared.” If you leave these pages bent, the bent part will weaken the paper and eventually fall off. You may see some of the page corners in your book already broken off.

Decide how often you will need the information in your book. If you will be using your book often and did not want to make a digital copy, wrap your book like you would a school “book cover” only make sure you use acid free, archival paper. This can be bought at craft stores in the scrap booking section or from an office supply store.

If you will not be using the book much, wrap your book like a present; again use acid free, archival paper. Be sure to label your book cover in pencil. I write the title and copyright information on an index card and tape it to the front of it to avoid ruining the book cover while pressing to hard on it with a pencil. Your book can then be placed in a zip-lock bag.

If your book is very important (diaries, family bibles, a book with high collector value), make a box for it, out of archival cardboard; make sure the book is a tight fit. If your books aren’t very important, like mine, I place three or four books in a shoe box.

Store the books or boxes, lying flat on a surface in a dry dark place. Inside drawers or on bookshelves are good places. Make sure that bugs will not eat your books by putting bug traps on top of and behind your shelf.

Some other problems you may have:

Mildew Stains-- The greenish brown stains in books are not mildew but what is left behind after mildew has been there. There really is no cost effective way to remove these stains. There is not danger of the mold returning if it is only stains. 

Mold or Mildew—If your book has mold or mildew currently, you may wish to make a digital copy (outside) and discard the book. Books with mold or mildew can infect other books. It is very hard to remove mold and mildew because touching them only spreads the spores. A good rule is to never buy books with mildew on them in the first place, no matter how cheap.   
Oxidation or "Foxing"—Rusty looking stains in books. These can only be removed by a conservationist but will not hurt the book.     

Crinkling of the pages or Tears—These can only be repaired with great care. Try to flatten out crinkles the best you can. Do not tape tears; it only leads to more problems in the future. If you need to repair a tear learn how to repair it the proper way with Japanese rice paper and a rice based glue. I will probably post a short tutorial on fixing tears sometime in the future.  

*Note: Look at the Godey's Lady's Book Lithograph at the beginning. There are two children using an umbrella in the snow. :D I hope you all enjoyed and can make use of this information.


  1. Stephanie, speaking of old books, I thought I'd mention Google Books in case you are not familiar with it. Google Books has scanned a wide range of books from libraries such as at Harvard. Many of these books are available in full view if the copyright has expired. I'm guessing copyrights have expired for most or all books before something like 1920. In any case, as a history buff, you likely would discover a range of books and other publications (using the search tool) written on topics of interest to you. Buried in the books, there are often very interesting old illustrations like this one from a book called The money question (1896). One more neat thing about Google Books, it would allow you to embed images (like the image in this link I included) or text images into your blog from the available books, etc (probably only the ones available in full view).

  2. Wow, thanks for the advice. I don't have any books that old but...I should take better care of my own books, while they are new.

  3. WudIzThePoint , I am very familiar with google books. I really do LOVE google for it. My only problem with them is that you can not add your own books to their server, I'm sure this has to do with copyright laws. I just think that there are a lot of books out there that are not in libraries that would be amazing to see-- diaries and journals and books with small publications. Google tends to stick to uploading public domain books from big university libraries. Thanks for your comment, Google Books truly is a great resource.

  4. Milli,It's always good to prevent problems before they start. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Stephanie,
    I have awarded you the sunshine award. Come and get it off my blog.


  6. Beautiful post, M'Lady!!!

    I am a professed bibliofile; I love, even in this e-age, the texture, the longevity, the print...

    I love this blog and will be following now...

    Slainte, Lady!


  7. Cygnus MacLlyr, Thank you so much!

  8. Thank you for fellowing my blog.


  9. Don't forget you can 'polish' covers, plates & etchings and get some staining off/reduced by rubbing gently with good bread, not supermarket sliced (UK) stuff or that lightweight sweet dryish US stuff, bud a good chunk of home-baked full-fat, slightly heavy, slightly damp...BREAD!

    I fed the fish!

  10. this article is very helpful i keep my book in zip lock with silica bead inside.

    May i know how to identity mildew, mildew stain and foxing.
    here some pic of what happen to my books. the brown stain has center (contour of color from middle to side), feel rough and dusty but no dust. Even after wipe it out the stain persist.

  11. There is a way to get rid of foxing but it involves chemicals and is best left to someone trained in conservation.

  12. I have an 1828 Holy Bible commentary and critical notes by Adam Clarke

  13. Hello. My name is Ashot Arakelyan. I’m the owner of the blog I have a request - If I please you, can we exchange links of our sites by addiding in the links section?
    All the best


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