How to take care of antique books

Keep your vintage and antique books in good condition with our guide to caring for them properly

How to take care of antique books
Gado Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Published: February 21st, 2022 at 11:00 am
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Books are fragile objects. Their components – paper, board, leather, parchment, wood, fabric and adhesive – are all vulnerable to sunlight, heat, humidity and insect or rodent attack. Modern first editions are prone to discolouration and a jacket in poor condition can dramatically diminish value. Bindings may be strained from opening, closing and careless handling, and even storing books vertically can cause damage.

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However, a few simple methods go a long way to protect antique books. Keep them closed, free from dust and in a stable environment, with good air circulation and away from damp, direct heat and light. Avoid leaving books open or face down or stacking them tightly on shelves. Large folio-sized volumes are better stored horizontally. Leather bindings can be kept in good condition using hide food, which is available from specialist suppliers. Although take care not to rub gilt decoration and seek professional advice before attempting repairs.

How to take care of antique books
Gado Images / Alamy Stock Photo

You will need:

  • Cotton gloves for the most delicate books, very clean hands for others
  • Cotton cloths and a polish-filled rag
  • A stiff bristle brush
  • A soft bristle brush
  • Foam wedges for book support
  • Acid-free paper and Mylar book jacket
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How to take care of antique books:

  1. Ensure your hands or gloves, if using, are scrupulously clean to avoid transferring dust and dirt from one volume to another.
  2. Examine the book carefully. If there are loose fragments, place them in an envelope and label them.
  3. To dust, hold the book closed by the front edge and, working at an open window or door, wipe with a cloth or brush gently with a hog’s hair brush. A polish-filled rag is also effective for removing dust that clings to outer surfaces.
  4. If dust has penetrated the leaves, use a foam support and a soft brush to remove it, brushing outwards away from the spine.
  5. If there are any detached leaves, papers or other items, leave them, as this is part of the history of the book.
  6. Consider wrapping modern books in Mylar jackets and acid-free paper to protect them.
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