Care, Display, and Cleaning of Fine Items

The Collectible Guru Tells All! Information on Everything From Gift Buying, Care and Cleaning, and even How To's.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Care and Cleaning of old/rare books

I am in NO way an expert on the care and cleaning of rare/old books but I have listened when my elders have given me instructions in the past. So now, I will share with you what I remember. It is so frustrating to see people treat books with no respect. So, for all of you who don't realize what you are doing to your books when you do it, here is a breakdown of care and cleaning procedures:

First of all, NEVER lay your books upside down and open on a table! Why? This puts stress on the spine and breaks the glue that holds the book together. Do this enough and you will have, not a book in your hands, but a couple of covers and some loose leaf paper. Your choice really but I would give you a nice lecture if I ever saw you do it. : )

Second, do not allow your books to sit on your bookshelf unsupported/crooked. Either lay them down and stack them or use bookends or another book for support. If your book looks like this / or this \ then the covers and binding will be strained and your book cover could break in half! I know, scary right?

Third, please do not dust your book with a damp rag! A gentle vacuuming or feather dusting will remove any dust gathered on the top and spine. This should be done at least once a month as dust can cause discoloring of pages.

Fourth, when you are reading your book, place it in your lap or place a rolled up towel under it to support the covers. Why? Because books were made to be held and cradled by the reader, in the hands or lap, not to be put on a table and smashed flat. If you do this, it will strain your binding and your pages will begin to fall out. (Don't say you were never warned!)

Fifth, do not store your books in plastic containers. The plastic has chemicals in it and as it breaks down, it will break down the fragile book inside. (Imagine going to get your favorite old book because you have decided to sell it and finding a pile of dust! Oh, woe!) Instead, choose to store your books wrapped in brown paper and place them in corrugated cardboard boxes and stack them on pallets. Do not store them any way but flat and make sure they are snug (not tight) in the box. Do not store them where pests can get to them. (Silverfish and bookworms will eat the glue out of the binding. Also, RATS AND MICE will use your books for bedding if they can get to them.) Cleanliness and diligence will thwart bugs and rodents. DO NOT USE CHEMICAL PESTICIDES! Last, but not least, do not tape your box so well that it cannot vent and store it in a CLOSET!

Sixth, DO NOT put tape on the binding of your books!! If you have a book that is falling apart, wrap it with string 2 ways and gently tie it like a package (don't get excited and tie these too tight!!!) then wrap as instructed above. After you have followed these steps to make sure you will not lose pages, contact a conservator, most can repair your book with very little damage to the original construction.

Seventh, wear COTTON gloves when handling the outsides of old books but not when you are turning pages as this can cause breakage. Why wear gloves when handling the outside? You have oils on your hands that will transfer to the book and cause discoloration of the binding/cover. Well then, why take them off when you turn pages? Because when you have cotton gloves on, the fabric can catch the delicate edges of the paper and because you can't feel the pages, you are more prone to move the wrong way and crumble them. Just make sure your hands are clean and dry before handling pages.

Eighth (I know it seems to go on and on), IF you have an accident and your books get wet (I am tearing up at the thought), use a hair dryer to dry the pages while constantly flipping them and separating them to prevent sticking. After your book is COMPLETELY dry, press it under heavy books (please do not put something weighted on top of your book unless it is another book as it will leave indentations) to prevent warping. If it is an old book that has gotten wet, gently separate the pages and insert tissue paper between EACH one. Gently press on the covers, remove tissue, and repeat until every page is completely dry. Then press as instructed above. If you cannot dry all of your books before they are ruined, FREEZE THEM. Yes, that's right; stick that sucker in the freezer. It will keep it from becoming more damaged while you dry its brethren. Then, you can defrost the books one at a time and dry them at your leisure.

Last (about time huh?), if you have a book that is broken, has tape on the binding, has loose pages, or has been eaten by pests, follow the instructions above and call a book doctor quick!!! I have included a list:

Or you can search yourself: use BOOK REPAIR in any search engine!

If you decide to just get rid of your old book... CONTACT ME at and I WILL TAKE IT OFF YOUR HANDS!!!!

Till next time,

The Collectible GURU
I work at


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