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How to Store Vintage Books

The old expression is true. Things really can get better with age, and books are no exception. But while the value may increase, the material often becomes more fragile. Vintage books require careful handling to preserve them. Proper handling and storage can help to maintain them for future generations.

Handle Carefully

When told to “wash your hands,” it is easy to assume that germs are the reason to keep up with one’s hygiene. But, the biggest culprit lurking on your hands regarding antique books is natural oils. Natural oils in our skin can transfer onto the pages and into the book’s binding, causing the pages to become yellow and brittle, thus weakening the binding.

To handle antique books with clean hands, wash thoroughly with soapy water, removing any dirt, oils, or contaminants from your skin. Dry your hands thoroughly with a clean towel and avoid using hand sanitizer or other chemicals that could potentially damage the book.

It can be a good idea to wear gloves when handling vintage books, but make sure to use gloves made of a soft, acid-free material.

Store Upright and Loose

When it comes to stacking and storing books, the old way is the best. It is generally best to keep antique books upright on a shelf rather than stacking them horizontally. This helps to prevent the spine from becoming damaged or deformed over time, and it is not just the shape that benefits from this arrangement.

Storing books vertically also allows for better air circulation, which can help to prevent mold or other types of damage. When it is said that books should be stored “loose,” this does not mean books should be left strewn about. Instead, it means that they should not be packed too tightly on the shelf. Packing books too tightly can cause the spine to become compressed or the pages to be wrinkled.

Avoid Moisture, Direct Sunlight, and Temperature Extremes

Beyond handling and stacking, climate is the most significant factor in an antique book’s longevity. Numerous environmental factors affect the way a book ages. A good rule for book collecting is to keep the environment consistent and avoid hazards like moisture or excess heat.

Moisture. This one should be obvious. Books and water do not mix. But even if you keep liquid away from your precious antiquities, water in the air can wreak havoc. High humidity creates an environment that encourages the growth of mold spores. Water can also soak into the binding, causing it to shift and loosen. Vintage books must be kept away from damp and humid conditions to prevent this type of damage.

A lesser-known culprit in the erosion of a good book is sunlight. While it is true that a bit of sunlight can dry a damp book and even counteract the effects of mold, direct and sustained sunlight can be harmful. The ultraviolet radiation bombards the paper, ink, and glue, breaking down pages and fading text. If enjoying a vintage book outdoors, remember to sit in indirect sunlight under the shade of a lovely tree.

Heat and cold can still affect a priceless collection even when kept out of the sun or the rain. Extreme temperature changes can cause books to wear unevenly, creasing pages and cracking binding. As for heat, room temperature works well. Just remember to steer clear of 233° C, or as any avid reader should know, that is Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which paper will ignite.

Use Dust Jackets

Dust jackets, also known as book covers, are often viewed as an unnecessary component adding unnecessary bulk and only serving to showcase the design of the cover artist. After all, dust jackets were only a typical feature of books in the 1800s.

Despite these criticisms, dust jackets serve a vital function for those looking to preserve the life of their rare books. They protect the book from external damage such as dirt, moisture, and wear and tear. This is especially important if your collection will be handled frequently, such as in libraries or bookstores. Dust jackets also provide a canvas for designers to showcase the book’s content and themes through eye-catching graphics and typography. This can attract potential readers and give them a sense of what the book is about before they even start reading.

Dust Books Occasionally

That dusky film that accumulates over time is the collected debris of our natural entropy. Dust comprises tiny particles containing dirt, pollen, skin cells, and other contaminants that can damage a book if left unchecked. Not only does the build-up damage the look of the book, but a coating of dust can also attract insects and other microscopic pests that will feast on the residue.

Make sure to leave a meal for a hungry paper mite! By dusting books regularly, you can remove these particles, help to preserve the book’s condition, and increase its longevity. Dusting also helps to remove any build-up of static electricity. Static charges, which occur naturally, can attract more dust, creating a vicious cycle.

Removing dust is easy if you take your time and remember these necessary steps. Using a soft, dry cloth or a feather duster. Skip the vacuum cleaner for this one. The suction could damage the book, undoing all your careful work. Start at the top and work your way down when dusting, gently wiping the book’s surface to remove any dust or debris.


For all collectors, these tips should help ensure your rare and antique books last at least another lifetime. If you do not have the collection of your dreams, there has never been a better time to start. Order vintage, leather-bound books from Millions of Books today and take the first step in your journey. The knowledge you preserve today could guide future generations far beyond your own reach. So take care of your books, and they’ll take care of you.