Member Blogs > Kristian Strom, BooksellerHow Should I Store My Score?

  • Sat, 10 Nov 2012 07:37:11    Permalink
     How to Store Your Book Collection, or "Hints from a Famous Binder"
    I recently received a question from an old friend who scored a nice set of books at a local estate sale.  After asking the obvious question, "Are they worth anything?", he asked another question that I wish more people would- "How should I store my score?"

    I can't tell you how many collections I have viewed where the value of certain books had been compromised due to improper storage or climate conditions, the most common of which is storing books in a damp basement, which can attract mold or mildew.

    Without further ado, I present to you several excerpts from the following list of helpful hints (photographed below), found on a loose page laid-in to a volume I recently acquired.  Credit must be given to the author of the short (and by no means comprehensive) list, Selmar Hess, a New York publisher who was one of the first to sell books by parts or subscription, and to make use of the photogravure process for illustrations.  I have included my own comments below each "hint."

    1.  To open a book, hold the book with its back on a smooth or covered table, let the front board down, then the other, holding the leaves in one hand while you open a few leaves at the back, then a few at the front, and so go on, alternately opening back and front, gently pressing open the sections till you reach the centre of the volume.  Do this two or three times, and you will obtain the best results.  Open the volume violently or carelessly in any one place, and you will probably break the back and cause a start in the leaves.

    -OK, so I doubt even good old Selmar did this with every book, but let me just paraphrase by saying that any book you deem to be collectible or at least potentially collectible ought to be handled with care.

    2.  Never try to force the back of a book to make it lie open flat, as you may injure the back.  This book being sewed in our improved Whipstitch style makes the actual breaking of the back almost an impossibility, although an attempt to "force" it cannot, of course, be beneficial to the book.  It must not be expected that an "Art Books" with many plates will lie open like a ledger.

    -Books are not meant to lie opened and flat for long periods of time, as this tends to result in a creased or damaged spine.  Books are, of course, meant to be read and enjoyed, but I would strongly advise against putting weight on the interior of a book in order to keep it open.  A book in excellent condition should close itself when opened, as if some sort of ghost were urging you to keep its' ancient secrets revealed.  I would also like to include that the style of my friend who asked this question can best be described in one word- "Whipstitch."  This revelation was made during the course of reading Selmar's proverbs.

    3.  To let a book lie open when through reading is another detrimental habit of many people.  When through using, a book should be closed, given its natural shape, and laid away with care.

    -See #2.  I'll call this the "paperback on the nightstand" condition.  Instead of using a bookmark, people often just leave the book open flat to the last page they read.  I must confess to being guilty of this one at times, and always wake up to regret it.  Again, this is relatively harmless with reading copies of paperback books, but should be avoided at all costs when dealing with any collectible volume.

    4.  It is wise to lay books of this size and weight flat on their side, but if it is desirable to place them in a book-case or shelf, see that the row is filled from end to end to prevent them from sagging to one side.

    -Anyone who has ever worked in a bookstore can tell you that the best way to store books on a shelf is side by side with the spine facing the customer, except when a particular book is being featured.  There is also a certain art to filling a shelf until it is full, but not too tight.  When books disappear from the shelf, make sure to replace them with other books or cap the end of the shelf with a bookend to prevent the remaining books from leaning on each other at an angle.

    5.  Do not keep books in a damp place, as they may become mouldy and the gold will lose its lustre.

    -Enough said.

    6.  Never expose a book to the direct sunlight for any length of time, as the leather, cloth, and colored edge will naturally fade more or less and give the binding an ancient appearance.

    -Anyone who needs proof of this can walk into the cafe at my favorite local independent retail bookstore, Watermark Books, and take a look at the color of the dustjackets on the shelf of Cookbooks below the counter.  The color of your books, their bindings and their jackets will all fade over time if exposed to direct sunlight.

    7.  A book should never be exposed to extreme heat, that is, near the stove, or on a shelf over a grate fire.  Keep it in a place where the temperature is moderate.

    -In other words, don't go burning any books, unless it is in the dead of winter and you happen to have a box of Harlequin romance paperbacks handy. 

    8.  If books should be delivered to you in cold weather, turn the volumes over occassionally- say every 3 or 4 days- to prevent warping.

    -I have absolutely no idea what Selmar is talking about here, although I'm sure his subscribers in New York would have.  I would, however, recommend a periodic dusting of your shelves and even flipping of a wood shelf (when applicable) to prevent bowing of the wood.  I have also been known to carry around one of those air-spray bottles to attack particularly dusty tomes, and seem to have inherited this propensity from my father.  Finally, I would encourage you to inspect any books you are bringing into your home (especially along the hinges of the front and rear endpapers and outer edges) for any signs of insects or infestation.

    I hope that between Selmar and I, you have some new information regarding caring for your book collection, so that when I come to visit I am not scoffing in disappointment and disgust.

    Brodart is my preferred vendor for all supplies and products related to archival storage and book repair.  They have plenty of helpful information, videos and products available at their website, for those of you who are interested in taking your passion for book conservation to the next level:

    For Further Reading:

    My Personal Favorite, a visual representation, which also happens to contain a few examples of how NOT to store your books at home:

    Another frequently encountered title on the subject, readily available for a buck or two:

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