Caring for Valuable Books

Acquiring Your Collection

When searching out new volumes to add to your collection, you must pay careful attention to three things: condition, Condition and CONDITION. Look the book over carefully and take note of any damage – writing or tears on pages, pages missing, foxing on the paper, condition of the cover, any holes from silverfish or other vermin, and of course, smell. Never purchase a book which smells musty – the mildew can spread to the rest of your library, and it is the single most devaluing factor to intact books of any age. Only after you are satisfied that the book is relatively free of damage should you pull out your wallet.


Inappropriate storage conditions can do more damage to a book in a year than can occur over hundreds of years if it is properly taken care of. Books should be stored upright on shelves, with their spines outward, and kept loosely together on the shelves. The pressure of the book beside should be enough to keep each one standing, but not so tightly that it compresses the book at all. Lighting should be kept to a minimum, and they should especially not be exposed to bright daylight on a regular basis. Humidity is an important factor; relative humidity should be kept as constant as possible, as it is the fluctuation of moisture in and out that causes damage to books through expansion and contraction. Use a dehumidifier in the summer and a humidifier in the winter to keep them from drying out. Never smoke around your books, it will decrease their value significantly.


If you take your books out and peruse them from time to time, you need not use white cotton gloves. In fact, leather bindings benefit from a bit of the oil from your fingers, as it helps keep them soft and supple. Always use clean hands when turning pages, however.  You must not crack the spine by opening it wider than it will comfortably go, or letting the front board hang while supporting with one hand. A book stand is helpful especially for larger volumes; it keeps the binding supported while you page through it.


If you have purchased your book from a reputable dealer, it will likely come with a cataloging slip. This contains a detailed description of the book’s condition, information on the significance or history of its author or printing, and perhaps a provenance, if available. If your book doesn’t come with this information, and you wish to add to it’s interest and value, a little sleuthing can be a fun afternoon’s activity. Using the internet, and bibliographical resources at your local library, see what you can find out about the history surrounding its publication. What location and era produced it? Was the author known for any controversy? Was it printed or bound using any notable techniques? How many editions were printed, with what variables, and to which edition does your copy belong? Write up a paragraph containing all that you have found, and keep it tucked into the book’s cover. This information, along with the cost and year you purchased it, will be helpful in appraising your collection, should you ever wish this to be done in later years.

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