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Book Collecting Basics: Can I Read My Rare Books?

By Kristin Masters. Jun 30, 2014. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Rare Books

The short answer not only is yes, you can. It is, yes you should. Of course you’'ve also heard that “condition is everything,” so how can you maintain your book’'s condition and still enjoy reading it?  Both should be achievable objectives.


You need not keep your rare books behind glass! Enjoy them with care. 

As you’'ve invested time and money in rare books, first editions, or signed books, you’ll want to do everything you can to protect their value. At the same time, passionate, “true” collectors are most knowledgeable about the content of the books, the bindings, dust-wrappers, etc. in their collection.

So how do we go about handling the books in our collection?

  • Remove the shrink wrap: If you have obtained a (leather-bound or other) book in shrink-wrap, either by the publisher or seller, the recommendation is to remove the shrink wrap.  Depending on the type of shrink wrap (archival quality), the shrink-wrap might actually be harmful to book and binding.  In either case though, the lack of oxygen can have deteriorating effects on binding and books, especially leather.
  • Take off the shelf with care: Protect the book binding. To retrieve a rare book from the shelf, push the neighboring books in and grab the book you’'d like in the center of the spine. Do not pull it out at the top of the spine.
  • Be gentle: Open a collectible book only as far as it wants to go.  Don’t “crack open” the binding. With particularly fragile books, you may want to place a pillow or other supportive device designed for the task, underneath the book. This will keep the book from opening completely. 
  • Get a bookmark: Of course, you won't want to "dog ear," or fold down, the pages of the book.   A thin and soft bookmark won'’t impact pages or binding. Better yet, write down your page number on a separate sheet. Note that you should remove the bookmark from the book as soon as you're finished; otherwise your book may suffer ghosting
  • Protect the dust jacket: Dust wrappers are meant to protect your book, but as such, they are often the first to experience damage.  See the earlier blog on protecting dust-jackets.
  • Avoid sunning: We’ve seen more than one example where exposure to direct sunlight has virtually destroyed the financial value of a library by fading and bleaching out books’ dust-jackets and bindings.  In short, books and documents should not be exposed to direct sunlight.  A proper reading room or library is equipped with the appropriate shutters and/or UV light protection.
  • Handle your book with care: Though it's not necessary to wear white gloves, you will want to wash and dry your hands thoroughly before reading or handling your rare books. 
As even slight wear and tear can drastically impact a book’s value, you do want to play it safe and maximize your precautions when handling and studying your book.  After all, a collection of substantial publications is a significant contribution to safeguarding human heritage and preserving it for future generations.

Kristin Masters
Master Content Brain. You think it, she writes it, no good thought remains unposted. Sprinkles pixie dust on Google+, newsletters, blog, facebook, twitter and just about everything else.


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    How can I identify a first edition? Where do I learn about caring for books? How should I start collecting? Hear from librarians about amazing collections, learn about historic bindings or printing techniques, get to know other collectors. Whether you are just starting or looking for expert advice, chances are, you'll find something of interest on blogis librorum.

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