How to Keep Your Collectible Books in Top Condition

To book collectors, it’s a common dilemma: to repair or not to repair. Conventional wisdom tells us that if a book has a tidy, attractive appearance, it’s likely to retain more of its value – but if you attempt to repair a book yourself and the job is botched? That could end up costing you, as your only course of action would be to pay an expert to reverse the damage you compounded – and that’s if it can be remedied at all.

In general, says Monika Schiavo, Director of Waverly Rare Books in Falls Church, Virginia, the rule is “do a little, but don’t do a lot … You wouldn’t do your own appendectomy, so know what your limitations are. And don’t use Gorilla Glue.”

Many types of damage to books can be prevented simply by using the right maintenance methods. Schiavo advises these 6 tips for book maintenance repair:

  1. Always clean books with a soft brush or duster.
  2. Only use rubber bands to fasten together a book that’s in pieces. Scotch tape is a no-no.
  3. If you spot a bookworm or silverfish in one of your books, immediately remove it from your home as it could contaminate your other books.
    Take the affected book to an expert and make sure you warn them ahead of time that you’re coming. To book collectors, insect infestation is a huge issue, because if one book is affected, others may be, too. In such cases, Schiavo recommends calling in a pest control company.
  4. For your valuable books, invest in custom clamshell cases of the type used by libraries.
    A bookbinder or repairer may be able to make one for you, or you can order them from library supply firms like Brodart. Even an acid-free box that you can buy at Michael’s or similar chain hobby stores will protect your prized books.
  5. Water damage requires expert intervention.
    The best way to deal with water damage is to prevent it from happening in the first place by storing your books in a safely contained environment. A Maryland library’s premier collection of rare Jane Austen editions was spared from the damage that might have been done by a roof leak because they were kept in custom-made clamshells. The clamshells got wet, but the books didn’t.
  6. Remember that leather is skin, and it does age.
    A tip Schiavo said she learned from rare book expert Dale Sorenson is to apply leather polish to book bindings, then buff them. There are types of leather polish made especially to restore and protect leather bindings. But whatever you do, don’t use harsh chemicals or household products of any type. If you wouldn’t use it to clean your own skin, you shouldn’t put it on leather bindings.

Let’s say you have a valuable book that has been damaged, and you know the repair is way beyond your own capability. How do you find the right professional to do the job for you? Schiavo recommends contacting a rare book auction house, book dealer or book society. They know who the experts are and will gladly share those contacts with you.

Monika_Schiavo_ImageMonika Schiavo, Director of Waverly Rare Books, a division of Quinn’s Auction Galleries, received her Bachelor of Arts degree from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., a Certificate in Appraisal Studies from New York University, and a Master of Arts degree from the Smithsonian’s History of Decorative Arts program. Schiavo provides free onsite evaluations and auction estimates for both buyers and consignors.