Whether you are an avid collector of antiquarian books, a novice buying your first antique book, or someone that has a few old books with great sentimental value, it is important to know storing antique books correctly keeps them in the best condition possible to be enjoyed by generations to come.
Storing Antique Books
Storing your antique books correctly affects their longevity and future values. In general, antique books should be stored in a place where they have good air circulation and no direct sunlight.
Choosing between a wooden or metal bookcase is often a decision based on decorating style. However, each of these materials has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the storage of antique books.
Although wooden bookcases help to stabilize the room's humidity, many types of wood secrete substances such as acids. Before using a wooden bookcase to store your books make sure to thoroughly coat the case with polyurethane lacquer or other similar finish. Allow the coating to dry for at least three weeks before placing your books inside the bookcase.
Metal bookcases, such as steel, tend to rust if there is any damage to the finishing layer. If rusting occurs, it may damage or stain the bindings of the books.
Bookcases should not be placed against outside walls. Placing them against an outer wall puts the contents of the bookcase at greater risk for damage from condensation and the growth of fungus.
Book shelves should be strong, smooth and flat. The shelves should easily be able to accommodate the weight of the books. If possible, the shelving should have slightly over an inch of space open to the back wall allowing for the air to circulate freely. If the wooden shelves are not sealed with a protective lacquer finish, line them with acid free board to protect them from acid vapors that are released from the wood.Never squeeze too many books onto the shelf. Packing them in very tightly may cause damage when you are removing a book. Store the books standing vertically on the shelves, making sure to support them securely with bookends or other books. Never lean the books on an angle as it causes damage to the book's joints and spine.
Store books that are oversized flat on the bookshelf. These large, heavy books should never be stacked more than three high. Stacking them horizontally in larger numbers could cause damage to the books' spines.
Never store antique books in direct sunlight or in rooms where florescent lights are kept on for long periods of time. Both of these types of light have high levels of ultraviolet radiation which promotes paper decay and fading. Although incandescent light is not as harmful, damage still occurs.
The room where you store your antique and old books should be kept darkened when it is not being used. Make sure the blinds or shades are closed during the day, or use a plastic film that blocks the light.
Temperature and Humidity
The perfect temperature for antique book storage is between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Rapid changes in humidity or temperature can damage the books. If the room is kept too dry and hot the books will become brittle and rapidly deteriorate. If the room is too humid and damp, mold will grow.
A Few More Book Storage Tips
- Place similar sized books next to each other on the bookshelf to eliminate dust from building up on the sides of the books.
- Never store a leather bound book next to book with a binding made of cloth or paper as staining could occur. Place the books in a polyester dust jacket to stop the fats and acids in the leather from staining the other materials.
- Bookends should be tall enough to fully support the full sides of the books.
- Never store books in a basement or attic.
Handling Antique Books
Books, even antique books, were meant to be handled and read. However, as time passes these special treasures become fragile with age and require special care in handling.
- Always wash your hands before handling an antique book.
- Wear white cotton gloves if you are handling a rare book or book with a rare binding. However, turning pages with gloves is not recommended.
- Never put a book on a shelf with the fore edge facing down.
- Never lay an opened book down with the pages facing the table surface.
Additional Resources for Antique Book Storage
- Northeast Document Conservation Center offers custom fitted boxes for protecting rare and antique books.
- American Institute for Conservation
- The National Library of Scotland
- Library of Congress
Throughout the centuries, various methods and materials were used to print and bind books. Handling and storing antique books properly greatly extends the lifetime of these fragile works from times past.