How to Care for Rare and Collectable Books
“I love the smell of old books”, is a phrase often heard in antiquarian bookshops. Just what is it that creates that unique fragrance booklovers the world over seem to adore?
Well, pleasant as it may be, it is actually a sign of aging! As books age, their materials degrade, and they start emitting organic volatile compounds. These ‘organic volatile compounds’ are what give libraries and second-hand bookstores that intoxicating fragrance.
The reason the smell is so appealing may be because it has a hint of vanilla. The scientific explanation for the vanilla-ish scent is that almost all wood-based paper contains lignin, which is closely related to vanillin which is the primary component of the extract of the vanilla bean.
6 Tips on How to Store and How to Care for Rare Books
It takes a considerable amount of time to build a collection of antique books. Since these gems aren’t easy to replace, your best option is to keep them as pristine as possible.
Tip 1: Avoid Exposing Your Rare and Collectible Books to the Sun
Direct sunlight is definitely the enemy of rare and collectable books. Sun exposure affects books in two ways: firstly, it causes the spines and boards to fade, and can be even more detrimental if you book has a dust jacket, as not only will it cause fading but it can leach the colour out of the jacket as well. Secondly, it will cause the paper and spine to become brittle. Wherever possible, make sure you books are kept out of direct sunlight.
Tip 2: Store Your Rare Books in A Room with the Right Climatic Conditions
Just like the sun, heat and humidity have a profound impact on a book’s condition. Ideally, you would want to store your books at 16°C to 19°C, and with relative humidity between 45% to 60%. If possible, keep the temperature and humidity regulated in the room where the books are stored. At the very least store your books in a room where temperatures are moderate and don’t fluctuate too much.
Tip 3: Store your Books Correctly to Avoid Damage
How you place your books when storing them is as vital as where you are storing them (tip #5). For this reason, you should not focus on how artistic your setup is, but rather, on its practicality, and how the practical placement of books will aid in the preservation of your rare and valuable books.
Your books should be stored upright or horizontal, but NEVER tilted. Keep bookshelves full or use a bookend so that the books can snuggle against each other without being too crammed. This will make it easier to remove the books from the shelf without breaking spines or pulling covers
Store larger books that are folio size (30cm x 48cm) or books that are wider than 7cm, horizontally. Store all other books alongside books of a similar size, to avoid warping of the spine and other damage.
Tip 4: Employ a Professional to Repair Your Rare Books
The golden rule for keeping older books in tip-top condition is to never complete a book repair yourself. You may have watched many videos on the topic of bookbinding, or seen somebody else do it and thought, why would I spend money when I can do the same with craft supplies from Hobbycraft? Suppress these thoughts. Once you have botched a repair there is no turning back.
Tip 5: Purchase the Right Bookshelf to Maintain Your Rare Books
A good bookshelf is a vital component in maintaining a rare book collection. If you think about it this makes perfect sense, as it is the place where your books will spend most of their time.
Since bookshelves are such a vital part of a book’s existence, it is a good thing to invest in the right kind of bookshelf, one that will maintain and uphold the integrity of your books.
Having said that, what should your bookshelf look like?
Ideally, if you are storing your books on a wooden bookshelf which is most common, your bookshelf should be sealed so no acid leaks out. Also, if possible, get a bookshelf with a glass front, as this will help protect your books from dust and mould that will quickly cause the book to erode.
It is preferable to site your bookshelf against an internal wall and remember to leave a gap at the rear as will allow for the circulation of air.
Tip 6: Protect Your Books From Dust
Another enemy when it comes to the preservation of your books is dust. Dust causes mold and mildew, which lead to those tiny white bugs (booklice) that slowly eat at your books and will quickly infect other books on your shelf. This is easily remedied by dusting your books regularly.
When dusting your books, hold the book closed, use a clean soft bristle paintbrush, and dust in an area away from your other books. This way the dust does not gather on books you’ve already cleaned or on books in your bookshelf.
Another way to protect your books from dust is to use a UV-resistant, acid-free plastic book jacket, and as mentioned in tip #5 use a glass-fronted cabinet.
Is My Old Book Valuable?
Although the aforementioned tips will work with any number of books, they’re extremely effective for preserving the value of collectable books.
When you’re an avid book collector or reader, every book you own is rare and collectable. Filling up a bookshelf with desirable reads is no easy task, so it makes sense that you appreciate your collection more so than others. However, officially a rare book is defined as ‘a book you want badly and can’t find’ or an ‘important, desirable and hard to get’ book.
Therefore, for a book to be defined as being rare and collectable, it should meet very specific criteria. Its eligibility will be determined by three characteristics. Regardless of what your intentions are for the book, know that this is only a guide, to get a true sense of your book’s value and rarity you’ll need to contact an appraiser.
Is my old book valuable? No, not necessarily.
Age is a considerable constituent in determining the worth of a book, however, this doesn’t mean that the older a book is, the more valuable it is. On the contrary, it needs to be an in-demand book with limited copies in circulation. To give you a greater understanding of this in practice, an excellent comparison is the 18th Century Book of Common Prayer and the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The 18th Century Book of Common Prayer, while nearly 300 years old, is neither rare or collectable because of the number of copies in circulation. Whereas, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone, although first printed in 1997, is a far more valuable book, not only because it falls into the category of first edition books, but also because only 500 first-edition copies were printed.
2. Scarcity of Copies
Continuing from the previous example, you can see that the copies in existence correlate to a book becoming rare, and in turn, more valuable. Scarcity is the number one determiner of rarity, as is evident in the case of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone first edition.
However, a combination of the two – scarcity and age – will be the most valuable, the type of books an avid collector or antiquarian would appreciate.
Several other factors could also make a book rare, that are not related to age or existing copies. These would include the condition of the book, the type of book, and whether or not a book is complete. One missing page will considerably impair the price of a rare book, whereas multi-volume books will be considerably more valuable than numerous single volumes. In these instances, it certainly pays to take proper care of your antiquarian books to preserve their value. As more books disappear from circulation or copies fall into disrepair a book can become substantially more valuable, making it essential to follow the tips on how to protect rare books highlighted within this post.
If you’re unsure about a book’s age, or how rare it is, read the copyright page. The copyright page has all the details of when the book was published, and which edition it is.
To determine whether your edition or title is rare you can do some basic research. Whether or not your books are valuable, maintaining them should be a priority, as it makes the reading experience far more pleasurable.
If you’re thinking of selling an antiquarian title, our mission is to make the process as seamless as possible for you and make the exchange beneficial.
THE SECOND LIFE OF BOOKS
We Buy books
We like to buy older and rarer items, but carrying a general stock in our stores means we never say NO to any volume or any kind of books no matter what century it is from.