Valuable books can be in a special category because of sentiment, price, rarity, age, or any number of other reasons. While a book lover will take care to preserve the condition of any book in his or her possession, certain books deserve special attention because of a higher value either personally, or to the world in general. Storing such valuable books means looking at some general principles, as well as special arrangements for certain volumes which may fall into your possession.
Special care of a valuable book ensures that it remains in optimal condition indefinitely. A valuable book can be stored in archival containers, on shelves, or in climate controlled enclosures. Choose a storage venue for the book based on price, space available, and physical condition of the book.
Continue reading to learn about some general recommendations that will permit the storage of valuable books safely even if you do not have the wherewithal to fund an archival library vault. If you want to be able to see and enjoy the valuable volume, it will affect the method of storage that you choose.
Storage Tips For Valuable Books
If you have books which you have determined are valuable because of any of the measurements of value, knowing how to store them is important. The goal is always to identify the books’ current condition and take steps to avoid storing them in a way that will cause further deterioration or worsening of characteristics which could reduce their value. The main things to consider in storage include cleanliness, storage container, lighting, humidity, temperature, and position, as well as any accessibility or visibility requirements.
Cleaning and removal of debris
Putting books in storage that are dirty, dusty, or show evidence of insect presence is asking for further deterioration in the future. The books should be carefully cleaned. Choose a well-lit working surface and make sure your hands are clean. Wearing gloves helps to further protect the valuable volumes. Don’t place the books in direct sunlight, but make sure there is good air flow as you inspect the books.
People are known to tuck strange objects into the pages of books, at times, to mark their place or preserve some memento. You might find paper money, greeting cards, dried flowers or leaves, as well as other objects. It is especially important to remove any paper that might cause staining to the pages or binding. Paper with a high acid content is especially damaging to books. Another element that can do a great deal of damage to books is moisture, as evidenced by mold or mildew spots on the pages. Avoid the use of any products which might further harm the condition of the book, binding, pages, or spine.
Brown or yellow blotches or spots on the pages of a book can indicate poor quality paper. Foxing is the term used to describe acidity on wood pulp paper. When storing books with evidence of foxing, make sure that you are particularly careful about temperature and humidity in areas where the books are to be stored. A cool, dry location is preferred.
If you find mold or mildew spots on the pages, you should do a treatment beginning with brushing away any excess spores with a fine, soft-bristled brush such as a large make-up brush. Treat the area with hydrogen peroxide or diluted strength isopropyl alcohol. Dab away any excess moisture and allow the pages to air dry. The use of a fan with mild airflow will speed the drying process.
Several insect species love to make their homes in and around books. Some of the most common are silverfish, beetles, flies, booklice, and termites. The larvae of these insects are called bookworms. Careful cleaning if you see any sign of insects is a first step. While direct application of pesticides is not encouraged, using camphor or similar product near the books may be effective in discouraging the female insects from laying their eggs in your valuable first editions. Cooler temperatures are another tool to discourage the presence of egg-laying females.
Shelves and Containers
Depending on the need for display and/or access to your books, a discussion about shelving is useful. The most common materials for shelves include wood, metal, glass, and man-made materials. If wood is used, it needs to be coated with polyurethane lacquer or another similar finish. Metal shelving needs to be powder coated to avoid the risk of rust. Glass shelves are probably the least likely to damage the books, but it is important to be sure that the glass will support the weight of the books. If you are uncertain about the shelving, use shelf liners or matte paper to protect the pages and binding edges.
Plastic bins and totes are not recommended for storage of books. The risk of moisture being trapped inside the bin is a major problem. A desiccant must be used in conditions where humidity is high, or condensation is a risk.
Bookcases should be placed on an inside wall when possible. Avoid placing books in an area where there are temperature variations, and where moisture levels are above the recommended level. Ideal storage conditions for books are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with a relative humidity of 35%. Keep the books out of direct sunlight, and avoid any bright lights.
Placing valuable books safely on your shelves is the next step. Large size volumes (Folio) can be placed flat, and can be stacked up to three books high. You may want to place acid-free paper between the books. Smaller books can be placed in library style, with the spines perpendicular to the shelf. Avoid overcrowding, but place similarly sized books together so they can support each other. You should be able to remove a book from the shelf without damaging the spine, or rubbing against adjacent books.
Avoid putting pressure on the spine or the binding. It is best to avoid excessive contact between leather bound books and other materials, as there is a risk of staining.
Cleaning and Dusting
No matter how carefully you clean, removing books from the shelves or other containers periodically and dusting the books and shelves is recommended. Use a fine, soft brush for best results.
Any long-term storage requires a different approach. The books should be clean and dry, and placed in the boxes so that maximum support of the spine is assured. Depending upon the size of the volume, they can be stacked or placed upright in the box with the spine against the outer wall of the box. Archival quality boxes are best, since they are free of the acidity of regular boxes.
Cataloging and Inventory
For a number of reasons, it is important to track the locations of your valuable books. If you were to experience a natural disaster, having a list of your books and estimated value may allow for recovery of costs. Keep your insurance records up to date, and record any professional valuations which you obtain.
Determining the Value Of A Book
There are guide books both online and in print to assist in the determination of a book’s value. Those who work with books that are important to save have various measures to determine value. Three basic elements to consider when setting value are rarity, condition, and demand. Books with the most value typically will have all three of these elements, and the loss of any will likely result in a loss of value.
The age of the book is not always a key factor in value. There are other more specific factors which may drive the price up. A professional assessment may be money well spent if your collection of books is part of your investment portfolio.
Every valuable ‘first’ in a book is not necessarily a first edition. Every book printed has a first edition, but an earlier printing date doesn’t necessarily make a book more valuable. Value can depend on popularity of the author, a small printing run, mistakes in the printing process, and more. A recent example is:
A hardcover first edition, first printing (only 500 copies of which exist) of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ might come in at $45,000 to a J.K. Rowling collector, while a hardcover first edition, first printing of the ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ could cost around $7,000. ‘The Chamber of Secrets’ was the second book in the author’s series and had a considerably larger print run.
The value of a book, in the view of the experts, can be linked to other firsts. The first appearance of a significant theory, concept, or character may add value to collectors. There are other examples of value because of being first historically. Maybe your collection contains the first printed text in a particular language, or the first book printed in a specific location.
Condition of the book
Whether you collect stamps, pens, or books, the condition of the item is a major factor in its valuation. A challenge arises in grading book condition, due to the fact that there has been great variation in bindings, both in their material and their binding style. It was not until the late 1800s that bindings became more uniform. Some of the early bindings are leather or cloth covered boards, and sometimes more exotic materials.
To be in perfect condition a modern book must have a dust jacket.
A first edition of ‘The Great Gatsby’ in a flawless dust jacket could bring $400,000 at auction. Without the dust jacket, the classic volume by author F. Scott Fitzgerald would probably bring $8,000.
Some older books which have been rebound can be collector’s prizes, but a book in its original (contemporary) binding will be considered more valuable, even if the condition is not pristine. ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ in its period-typical calfskin binding will bring a higher price than one which has been rebound, even if the original binding is in worse condition.
Books which have missing pages or sections do not achieve their full potential value. Older books which would otherwise be prized quickly lose their value when maps or illustrations are removed deliberately or accidentally.
A book which was owned by someone important can be more valuable than the same book that came from other collections. Signed copies or bookplates can help to establish ownership. A book from the personal library of Nikola Tesla would be more valuable than the same book with no particular ownership noted.
Fine bindings or printing masterpieces
When a book is a beautiful example of quality craftsmanship, it can be a collector’s goal. Some family Bibles are important for the beauty of their covers and pages, as well as for their sentimental value and historical value. Some 17th and 18th century English books, as well as 20th century French Art Deco volumes are considered works of art. The artistry for these pieces matters more than the content.
Illustrations and Images
Some editions have content that is less valuable than the illustrations which are part of the edition. An example would be artist Henri Matisse’s limited edition of ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce.
Just because a book is old or is hard to find doesn’t mean it is more valuable. Rarity is only important if it is in demand for other characteristics described above.
Are paperback books ever valuable?
Unlike Fine condition hardcover books in perfect dust jackets and mylar covers, paperback books generally cannot be classified more valuable because of their condition, or their age. These books can be quite collectible because of their scarcity or because they were ‘first’ in some way. The premier example is Pocket Book #5 ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ by Agatha Christie, which is highly collectible. All ten first printings were only released in New York City and the 1939 runs were small.
Some popular authors and examples of paperbacks which may be more collectible, and thus more valuable include:
- Dashell Hammett – ‘The Maltese Falcon’ Pocket Book 268
- Raymond Chandler – ‘The High Window’ Pocket Book 320
- Cornell Woolrich (William Irish) – ‘The Phantom Lady’ Graphic 108
- Fredric Brown – ‘The Fabulous ClipJoint’ Bantam 302
- Harry Whittington – ‘Murder Is My Mistress’ Graphic 41
- David Goodis – ‘Dark Passage’ Dell 221
- Charles Willeford – ‘Full Moon/High Priest of California’ Royal Giant 20
- Jim Thompson – ‘The Killer Inside Me’ Lion 99
- Chester Himes – ‘If He Hollers Let Him Go’ Signet 756
- William Knowles (Clyde Allison) – ‘Have Nude Will Travel’ Berkeley Y705
Check one of the pricing tools or guides available in printed or online form for information about the value of a particular book.
Should a valuable book be rebound or professionally repaired?
As you have seen, having a valuable book rebound may very likely reduce its value to a collector. For certain, unless you are trained and certified in the art of book repair, a homemade repair job is never recommended. Using the wrong materials can increase the level of damage to the book.
Preserving valuable old books
Because of the growing prevalence of audio books and digital books, books which can be held and enjoyed for their form may be a disappearing commodity for all but the true book lover. It is thus even more important to protect volumes which are in their original form.