How to Store Antique Books

By Alex Burke
Prevent damage to antique books.
antique school book isolated on white image by Nikolay Okhitin from

Storing an antique book incorrectly can damage the spine and cover and cause its value to drop dramatically. Placing books on shelves or packing them in boxes for storage requires some basic understanding of how books are bound. Treating them carefully means avoiding the placement of stress and weight on each book, particularly the spine and binding. Damaged books will need to be examined by a qualified conservator.

Store all books in a cool, dry space, away from direct sunlight and where the air flows freely. Keep the books away from basements or attics---water and humidity can mold the pages and very dry areas can cause the pages to become brittle and glues to disintegrate. Keep the books in an area where the relative humidity never rises above 45 degrees and the temperature stays at 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place antique books on smooth shelves or cases that can hold the weight of the books. Avoid raw particle board surfaces to prevent tears and damage to covers and edges. Keep them away from painted surfaces; the books can become adhered to the painted surface.

Place books of like size next to like size. Storing larger-sized books next to smaller-sized books can place pressure against the covers, causing an indention or curving of the larger book's cover.

Always place books upright, even when stored in a box. Stacking them flat puts pressure upon the spine and eventually loosens the binding.

Use bookends to keep the books in an upright position. Books that are allowed to lean end up with a weakened binding and a distorted shape. Make sure the bookends are tall enough to support the height of the book.

Store the proper number of books on a shelf. The number will vary according to the thickness of the books. Do a simple test by slipping a single sheet of paper between each book. If the paper can be removed without force, the spacing is fine. If force is needed, the books need more space. Books pushed against one another too tightly can suffer damaged spines and rubbing along the front and back covers. Books placed too loosely will lean and suffer spine damage too.

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