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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Making Money from Book Care

My books, new and old, are my inventory, and the better they look and smell, the more satisfied my customers will be. Most booksellers know about the content of books, but how many know basic, simple steps to protect, clean, repair, and store books? Books are made of paper, glue, cotton, and sometimes leather: all organic materials. Booksellers, books, dogs, trees…we all have that crucial carbon molecule and need care. But when we sell or receive books, do we ever receive or give care instructions? Those that do gain a commercial advantage over their competitors. To begin, let’s review the basics.

The enemies of books are dirt, moisture, mold, sun, insects, poor shelving, and poor handling. The first step is physical protection and I put plastic book covers on all expensive dust jackets, for both old and new books. The plastic protects against water, dirt, spillage, and the fading effects of ultraviolet light, be that from sun or fluorescent lighting. It is far easier to clean plastic than paper. A popular household cleaner is rubbing alcohol. Put a dab on a clean, soft cloth and wipe gently in one direction. Rubbing alcohol is also good for laminates and has a bonus advantage of killing some germs.

I think everyone should have a “medicine chest for books” composed of basic household and commercial products. Basic cleaning tools are the document cleaning pad and the Absorene Book Cleaner and Dirt Eraser (or dry sponge). The first is a crumbled art gum eraser in a cloth web and acts as a gentle abrasive. The dry sponge, so called because it is only used when dry, is an even gentler and safer way to clean all books and ephemera. A word on the eraser: it is the best all-round cleaning tool, but only the art gum eraser should be used. For protecting books without dust jackets I use rolls of plastic (Mylar) and cut them to size. Instructions for using all the above items are included when you buy them.

Book supply companies have thick printed catalogs and web sites listing many thousands of products and these can be confusing, at first. Start with a few products, use them, and then go on to others. It is somewhat like learning a new language, but you will probably enjoy book care.

My favorite tips? Here are two. For older books, without dust jackets, I have had great success with Clean Cover Gel. This is a petroleum-based “glop” that gets ingrained dirt out of boards. Every dealer of old books should have a jar. Many an old book has been purchased for a few dollars, wiped with this glop, and resold for a good profit. For paper tears, I could use Magic Tape, or a premium tape likeFilmplast P Repair Tape that is the thinnest I know of, or I could make a “tear-in-a-waxed paper sandwich”. Apply a thin layer of an acid-free adhesive to the tear using a toothpick, cotton swab, or your fingers. Put waxed paper on either side of the page tear, then close the book and put weight on it for several hours. Another way to apply pressure is to wrap several rubber bands around the book. This repair method is also effective for gluing pages and illustrations that have fallen out. These suggestions, and book care in general, should always be practiced on an old book first.

Another suggestion is to buy commercial book care products for your own use and for resale to your customers. It is increasingly popular for a bookseller to tell a client that for an additional $1 to $3 a plastic book cover can be added. As you learn, you become an information source for your customers: a true “full-service bookseller.”

Bern Marcowitz, co-owner of Dog Lovers Bookshop at, is co-author of “Care and Feeding of Books Old and New – A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers”, and a co-consultant to the Supplies Division of The Brodart Company.

Copyright Ó 2004 Bern Marcowitz




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