Paul Fraser Collectibles' guide to preserving your rare book collection


Many collectors go misty-eyed at the thought of dust on a page - and rare book collecting can take this passion to a new level. But rare books are also among the most delicate collectibles, and it is vital that you know how to properly look after your collection.

Handle them as little as possible

It's a shame not to read them… Yet, if you are a collector of antique books hoping to build a profitable alternative investment, then the less you handle your books the better.

Leafing through your first edition of The Great Gatsby (these, incidentally, have sold for hundreds of thousands at auction) or even a limited first edition Harry Potter has the danger of knocking serious  sums of money off the book's price.

The reason? Every time you touch a book, you leave small marks and layers of dust that are invisible to the naked eye. These, over the course of time, can degrade your book's pages.

Antique books are often bound in flimsy leather or cloth and are very delicate artefacts. A basic run-down of things you should avoid in order to preserve them includes:

- High humidity

- Sunlight

- Heat

- Dust

- Rough treatment

- Dust jackets

Dust jackets aren't simply for show

They also serve a valuable purpose, keeping everyday and often invisible dust particles away from your books. As such, a good dust jacket can greatly boost a book's value on the collectors' markets.

For instance, when a 1925 first edition copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby sold for $180,000 at auction, it was largely down to the book's well-preserved and rare dust jacket.

So, wherever and however you store your books, keep them wrapped snugly in their jackets. You'll definitely thank yourself for it in 30 years.

History on your shelf... Rare books require preservation and
attention so you can get maximum enjoyment from them

Storing and positioning your books

The best place to store your books is in a specially-made archival box. These boxes can be bought online, or your local book dealer may be able to point you in the right direction.

Archival boxes are made of acid-free materials and contain an alkaline buffer. This prevents harmful pH factors from acting upon your prized first editions and browning the pages.

Another key tip for storage is: place your books upright, rather than on top of each other, to retain their original shape. If possible, place similarly sized books next to one another. This prevents a larger specimen warping next to its smaller companion.

In other words, a "comfortable fit" is the best way of describing how to stack your books. Whatever you do, don't jam them in.

If you can't face the prospect of putting your collection away in a box, or wish to display them to impress the neighbours, place your books spine-outwards on a high shelf, preferably behind a glass case away from small children and the dog.

Also, make sure your shelves are lined with polyester. This prevents the shelves' wood or paint from adversely affecting the books' covers or pages.

Storage temperature

Whether you keep your books on display or hidden away, their location in your house is vital.

High humidity can ruin a first edition. Such conditions, often found in basements and attics or even simply near to exterior walls, can lead to mould and also attracts insects.

Your best bet is to store you books in an area with a temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Also keep them away from sunlight, which has the nasty habit of fading both cloth and leather.

Leather bound books are particularly tricky to preserve. Keep them away from both high humidity and low humidity, as leather is prone to cracking in the wrong conditions.

Do a bi-annual inspection

Although you'll want to touch your rare books as little as possible, it is important to keep an eye on them.

Take your books out for a bi-annual inspection, to ensure that that the ravages of winter or the roaring summer have had no adverse effect. Your inspection should be conducted with special auctioneers' gloves, easily purchasable on the internet, to stop you getting dust on them.

If you do find dust, a gentle wipe a special dust-collecting cloth should do the trick. And if you find any more significant problems? The first rule is: take a deep breath, step away and do not try to fix it yourself.

Unless you are a book restorer, you will probably do more harm than good and could significantly damage the condition - and investment potential - of your books. Instead, take it to a professional for advice and expertise. It will be worth it in the long run.

Handling your rare books

When handling you books, grasp them firmly by the spine. If you must open them, dust them first to avoid any particles falling in among the pages. Also, place the book in specially-designed book holder to keep it supported.

Follow these steps, and you can ensure that your book collection's condition and lifespan will more than match the immense pleasure and profit that rare books can bring.


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