What Not to do to a Book: A Top Ten List

Water-damaged Book
Oh, this poor thing.

Books, especially old and antique books, can be finicky and temperamental. To keep your collection in pristine condition, be sure to avoid the following pitfalls of book ownership.

1. Do not expose to water or damp atmospheres

When wet or damp, pages quickly wrinkle and become brittle. In some cases, the ink can run and spill onto other pages.

 2. Do not place pressure on the binding

Age, quality, and use can all result in weakened binding, and undue pressure can cause pages to fall out and the binding to split.

 3. Do not subject to harsh or ultraviolet lights

Books with hand-drawn or fragile illustrations and platings can become dull when exposed too frequently to ultraviolet lights or camera flashes.

I Hate War and Peace

If you wish to destroy your own copy, I recommend a reading copy.

It just happened so fast.  One minute, I was innocently ignoring a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and the next moment, I was killing it.  And it was a slow death.

A painful death.

A few weeks earlier, I was having coffee with one of my classmates, Brad*.  I really liked Brad, but it wasn’t really going anywhere, so I was beginning to lose hope.  After about an hour, he mentioned that one of his favorite books was War and Peace, and so of course I immediately mentioned that I had always wanted to read it, but, so sadly, I had never gotten around to purchasing a copy for myself.  It was only a few days later that Brad was loaning me his beloved copy.

Never before in my life had I enjoyed the slightest desire to read War and Peace, and that disinterest continued for the three weeks Brad’s copy sat on my bedside table.

Brad’s copy was worn with use, but still in excellent condition.  There was plenty of highlighting and notes scribbled in the pages, but judging by the covers, it looked almost new.  But that was before I knocked an entire glass of water on top of it. (more…)

Identify, Prevent, and Remove Mold and Mildew from Books

A handy guide!

Imagine: You just came across a wonderful book in your favorite used book or thrift store, and it seems to be everything that you were looking for to add to your shelf. It is nearly perfect, except for the pervasive, dank smell that comes along with it.

Unfortunately, that smell can be an indication of improper storage in a cold, damp basement or uninsulated attic, leaving it open to the growth of mold and mildew. These fungi are the most common culprits of the familiar “old book smell,” but that odor is the least of the detrimental effects possible.

Mold and mildew live off of organic material (leather, wood, paper, cloth) and over time their presence can weaken the structure of the book, stain the cover and pages, and prompt negative effects in your health, especially for folks with allergies or asthma.

It is important to identify the active growth of mold and mildew and remove it before it spreads through your entire library! (more…)

How to clean and repair ex-library books

Books with library markings

One very common question we receive from customers is, “How can I take all the library markings off of an ex-library book?

Its very tempting, as book collectors, to want to malign libraries for the damage they do to books.  But as Stephen (whose parents were librarians) has often defended to me: “How many books do you think libraries would have if they didn’t mangle them with markings and pockets?”

So, we do thank you librarians one and all for helping to keep your books on the shelves for everyone to enjoy!

However, as book collectors, we do occasionally end up with an library discard book as a filler in our collection.  (Since I can’t yet afford a nice fine first of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, for example, I have a first edition in first state dustwrapper ex-library on my own shelf).

So, to the question:  how do you clean up your ex-library books and make them at least presentable?  In this article on removing library markings from books, renowned book care expert Bern Marcowitz attacks the problem with aplomb and – naturally – a hair dryer.

Make your own clamshell box for books

Clamshell Case by Journeys in the Bibliosphere

In answering a question from a customer recently, I stumbled across this great blog post on making your own clamshell box from a librarian / bookbinder / book artist. And, in fact, in looking about the author’s site, I found a tremendous wealth of great information on do-it-yourself preservation tips for “budgety” (my wife’s cleverly coined alternative to “cheap”) bibliophiles such as myself.

Anyone interested in this sort of hands-on preservation for their collection absolutely must pick up a copy of The Care and Feeding of Books by Bern Marcowitz and Margot Rosenberg. Aside from being one of our favorite people with whom to knock about Manhattan for an evening, Bern is a tremendously resourceful, practical, and clever bibliophile. You can often catch an exclusive article from Bern and Margot in our blog. Recently, they covered To Clean or Not to Clean – a great look at options available for restoring a classy look to your books.

Simple Book Jacket Makeovers: How to clean, repair and protect book dust jackets and covers

The Able McLaughlins
This was a listing for a dust jacket only,
no book included!

It’s spring here in New York City, and people are hurrying off to work weighed down with more than the usual laptops and cell phones. Spring — and the related notion of spring cleaning — has these folks carrying garments they’re not wearing, things in need of cleaning and repair. Many of these are what designers call jackets.

Which, of course, is what another species of designer calls the attractive and informative attire books wear. Those jackets are meant to be protective, too. And, like our clothing, they need care now and then.


To Clean or Not to Clean? A complete guide to the simple art of cleaning books

Book Cleaning

Our first question when we handle new acquisitions is always, Does it need cleaning? The usual answer is yes. Then we must decide how much cleaning is appropriate and choose the method that will be most effective and safe.

Each of us has a personal definition of dirt. For general book purposes, dirt is whatever doesn’t belong on a book; it’s foreign matter. Dirt obscures beauty. Dirt is not necessarily a passive substance. Dirt and its components can be abrasive, not just unsightly.