Taking Care of Your Books

Strange as this may seem, we encounter a fair number of books that have lost significant value because of the actions of their owners.  Since we are an active antiquarian book dealer through our World Wide Hunting Book website and catalog, we thought to offer the following advice.

It should go without saying that you must keep your books away from direct sunlight and moisture.  These two elements are the bane of books.  Also you need to keep insects (silverfish are a particular problem in certain parts of the world) and any other animal away from your books.  You will be surprised how often we get offered books that have been chewed on by dogs, rodents, and even once pecked by a parrot!  Keep your books in a dust-free environment if at all possible.  Keep in mind that fluorescent lighting tends to fade book spines and jackets more than incandescent lights will.  Certain colors tend to be ultrasensitive to light, from any source.  Purple is one such color, and for some reason many modern leather bindings are also very sensitive to light.  So keep them out of direct light, any light.  Ideally a library should be fairly dark when not in use.  If your books have sensitive spines and are in a bright room, turn the spines around and place them toward the wall.  Heavy books should be stored lying flat or horizontally as the book blocs (pages bound together) tend to sag out of the bindings when placed vertically.

Writing in a Book and Any Other Markings
Next we need to talk about markings in a book.  Here is a simple rule:  Any book with markings in it is worth less than a book without, all other things being equal.  So what does this mean?  Any time you place a blind stamp (from one of those embossing devices that sometimes are also used on official legal documents), bookplate, signature, or any writing or markings in a book, chances are you have reduced its value.  Some further explanation is in order:  If you have a fine condition of In Unknown Africa by Powell-Cotton (1904 London, Hurst and Blackett, Limited), there will be no virtually difference in value between it and another copy in exactly the same condition with a neatly inked signature and date from 1906.  However, if your copy has your name and “Gift from Aunt Blondie, Christmas 2008” written with a ballpoint pen, it will likely be worth less than the copy with the period signature or one without any writing.  Surely we do not have to mention felt-tipped pens, ink smudges, hard-pressed ballpoint writings, (or any other modern pen writings) or name stamps?  And even worse for dropping the value of a book are library numbers printed on the spine or pages of a book.  We even had someone offer us his book collection that had his name perforated on one page of each book he owned.  Another collector had taken a name stamp and stamped with ink the back of all the hand-colored plates in his books!  We will refrain from making any further comments, but obviously do not do any of this, for the value of your books will go down, and likely the reduction in value will be significant.

Gluing in Photos, Newspaper Clippings, and So On
Do not glue anything in a book.  This includes photos, newspaper clippings, articles, letters, etc.  Often a reaction between the glue and the papers will make the pages “bubble,” and they never straighten out, even after the glue dries.  If you want to keep something with a particular book, place it in the book loosely; but do not glue it in!  Keep in mind that newspapers are not printed on acid-free paper, and, if a newspaper clipping is left in a book for a few years, acidification occurs, which normally manifests itself by making the pages of the book brown.  This is called “foxing” in the book trade.  Place such clippings in an acid-free paper envelope and stick it in the book if you must.  Remember, in some extreme cases even then the acidification can bleed through the envelope onto the pages of the book.

What about bookplates?  A nice, tasteful bookplate does not normally detract from the value of a book, but there are quite a few exceptions.  (We should mention here that a bookplate of a famous person could even add to the value of a book.  But unless you are Ernest Hemmingway, Pope John Paul, or Queen Elizabeth II, do not count on this being true for your bookplate.)  A bookplate placed on printed endpapers (the very first pages seen when you open a book) is normally considered a blemish.  These endpapers can be printed with a map, a logo such as the Safari Press rhino endpapers, or the Rowland Ward zebra-pattern endsheets.  Such endpapers should not get a bookplate glued on them, no matter how tasteful.  If you want to use a bookplate, do so only on books with blank endpapers, and do not place the bookplate anywhere but on the front paste-down (the endpaper that is glued to the front cover of the book).  If you have a library good enough to warrant a bookplate, go to the expense of having an old-fashioned bookplate printed on acid-free paper with acid-free glue backing.  Do not, under any circumstance, use self-adhesive bookplates (or any other label for that matter) on any book.  You will find bookplates have gone out of fashion, and getting an old-fashioned, printed-paper bookplate made is now a niche specialty.

Modern Books
Whatever we have said above counts doubly for modern books, especially the books of the publishing houses of Amwell Press and Safari Press, which started publishing from about 1980 onward.  These should contain no markings.  Any written names, bookplates, blind stamps, etc., in these books will reduce the value of the book, if possibly even more so than in older books.  Collectors of these types of books seem to particularly dislike blind stamps.

We want you to read your books, and obviously they are there for your enjoyment and pleasure.  But as in so many other fields of collecting, the price of used or antiquarian big-game hunting books has risen tremendously in the last few decades.  And with these much higher prices, a much more discerning and, yes, picky collector has entered into the field.  If you or your heirs ever want to sell your book collection, keep the suggestions written on these pages in mind.

The above advice is brought to you by the cumulative experience of the staff World Wide Hunting Books.