How to Preserve a Very Old Book

I inherited a book from my mother, who had received it as a gift from her great-aunt Flo last century. It is an 1856 full color and gold leaf illustrated edition of Longfellow’s poem “The Builders”. While it is not in perfect, mint condition (it has, after all, passed through three owners and has been actually read, that is, used as a book and not as an art object) it is still in very good condition and I’d like to preserve it for future generations (my niece on my side of the family is Designated Heir when I’m no longer around - we’ve decided to pass this through a maternal line).

The pages are still white, as they used MUCH better paper in those days. The binding is starting to get a little weak, but all pages are still attached. I have no intention of selling it, as it has far too much sentimental value as well as being an heirloom.

However - how should I protect this? I feel it would be a bit vulnerable out in the open on an ordinary bookshelf. I have a small fireproof box I keep valuable papers in, but I’m not sure if there’s any sort of out gassing from it I have to worry about or not. I’m thinking that wrapping it in archival tissue when I’m not actually reading it might be the best way to go. I am concerned about moisture/water damage, though - is there a safe sort of ziplock bag for something like this?

I can’t afford a ton of cash outlay on preserving this - not because I don’t want to do it, but because I just don’t have a ton of cash right now. I’d also like to keep it accessible so when I do want to read it, or just look at the color plates, it’s a straightforward thing to do.

Any suggestions?

(Mods - I figured preservative techniques was factual, but if you want to move it ot IMHO I’m totally cool with that)

Okay, so it looks like you’ve got a pretty decently put together book on your hands and want to keep it in good condition.

Do you have a curio cabinet or a room temperature dry place with low humidity in your house? If the former, as long as it’s not relatively newly varnished and has a dry and clean interior, this may be an option for storage. If the latter, storing it in an acid free cardboard box wouldn’t be out of the question, as the box ensures that there’s some airflow and protects it from dust. Optimal temperatures are between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, but acceptable for museum/archival standards is between 69 and 71 degrees Fahrenheit.

From one of my archives class texts [this section is dealing with selecting a storage room] (An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs):

My biggest suggestion is to try to find some good guides for preservation and archival storage of paper materials from your library; if they don’t have them, interlibrary loans can be your friend. I’m going to list a couple of resources that I always turn to, one of which I own. If you’re having trouble finding them, I might be able to scan a couple of relevant pages for your use.

Tuttle, Craig A. 1995. An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs. ISBN 1568250215

Buck, Rebecca A. and Jean Allman Gilmore. 1998. The New Museum Registration Methods. ISBN 0931201314 (paperback)

The latter is more thorough, but also much more difficult to find, as it’s out of print IIRC. I own the first title.

Do a search for archival storage.

Places like this come up:

The key is the word “archival”

Alternatively, you could start a religion and have it copied meticulously.

Not much better paper, a different process for making the paper, which didn’t require acid. This means - if you don’t see any brown stains, and esp. given the time you gave - that you are safe from acid eating of the pages, one of the biggest problems for archivars today.

An open book shelf is not dust-proof and has variable temperatures. An archive box - that is, a cardboard box fitted with special archive paper - is the cheapest solution to keep out dust and keep the temperature more stable (libraries use this when they can’t afford to build a temperature-controlled vault).

Do you mean gassing out from the box or from the book? The book shouldn’t gas out anymore after all this time, and given the time it was made. What is the box made out of?

Definitley NOT a ziploc or plastic bag! Unless you have total temperature control, there will be moisture variations, which will need to transfer out/ in, which is why a cardboard box is a good and cheap method. If you have archive paper and safe cardboard, you can build the box yourself and line it with the paper.

I don’t know enough about American authors, but how rare is this? Do you have a state or university library near you? Because if it’s rare, they might be interested in scanning it to have a digital copy as reserve. Their old book section might also be ready to look at it and give you special tips, because seeing and handling is better than general tips.

No, no curio cabinet.

Let me make this clear - although my home is adequate for human needs it is NOT temperature-controlled! Temperatures swing quite a bit, from about 60 degrees in winter to 80 in summer. The room with the least swing in temps is the bedroom, which is where I’d like to store it, but we’ve had rodent invasions, we have parrots, we get periodic eruptions of insects of various sorts. Right now it’s in a bookshelf with a shelf that closes fairly tightly and is largely vermin proof, it’s located between the kitchen and front which is not the most temperature stable part of the house, but is certainly better than an exterior wall.

Good lord - there is NO way I can keep the temperature that stable in my home. It’s just not possible.

The archival cardboard box sounds nice, but rodents and parrots can chew through cardboard. I’d then need something to protect the archival box! Also, where would I get such a thing? And there’s the problem of money (of which I have more or less none).

Just for the record - it spent nearly 70 years in my mother’s dresser drawer, so it certainly hasn’t been kept to museum standards ever. I’d like to preserve it, but I have to find a solution within my means.

I’ll certainly read the provided links.

Out gassing from the fireproof box - would expect any gas in the book would have left long ago. I have not idea what the box is made of, but there’s a faint chemical sort of odor about it and it feels vaguely greasy to the touch. It’s not waterproof, either. (My current documents in it are in ziplock bags, but those aren’t treasures like this little book is.)

OK - how do I protect this archival cardboard box from rodents, insects, and potentially water? Not that I expect a flood, but roofs sometimes leak, flooding does occasionally occur in my region, and stuff happens.

If this book IS that rare I wouldn’t dare loan it out for fear of not getting it back. I’ve lost too many books over the years to loan any of them out ever again, much less something like this. I mean, why should I trust people just because they work at a museum?

This isn’t a US edition - it was printed in Bavaria.

It’s not a particularly common edition, but I have seen a few examples out on the internet, that’s how I was able to research it in the first place, so it’s not unique, either.

I checked out the University Products link, and their “make your own storage box” for rare books looks quite reasonable and in my budget - better yet, I might be able to get these for some of my younger but still valuable other books. So thanks for the tip.

That still leaves the problem of how to protect the box, and finding the most temperature-stable part of the house for storage.

My archival photo storage is in a closet of the spare bedroom that I use as an office. Central A/C and heat keeps it same basic temp year round (as well as removing humidity).

Reread your last post about temps. Never mind.

Yeah, the heat here is pretty good, and certainly the bedroom, being away from the front room and its bank of windows, never gets too cold but we have only the one window unit to cool 1100 square feet of space. Hence, it gets warm in summer, and at times humid.

We’re not talking about a 500 year old Gutenberg Bible here, I’d just like to slow down the inevitable effects of age.

It would be nice to know how rare/common this edition is, and its possible value, but my Google-fu does not seem up to the task.

This isn’t so bad of an idea-- do you have space in a drawer that’s unlikely to become friends with vermin in your house? It’d breathe to some extent, and if the dresser is old enough, you wouldn’t have much to worry about with off-gassing.

Also, check your local craft stores; many of them have archival quality photo boxes for not so much-- I’m guessing the book would probably fit in one of those.

I don’t mean to burst any bubbles, but copies of 19th century american poets are rarely worth very much. Poets like Longfellow were enormously popular and many, many editions and copies of his poems were published. On the internet I quickly found several copies of *The Builders *for sale in excellent condition for $25 to $75 dollars.

But monetary value aside, this book obviously means a lot to you and your family. I would treat it as an heirloom and follow some of the advice above.

Not at the moment - we caught three more mice last night and our dressers don’t seem to be vermin proof, unfortunately.

That still leaves the problem how to protect the box. I’ve noticed that scrapbookers seem nuts for archival quality stuff, so next chance I get I’ll go down to the craft stores that stock that stuff.

I’ve been told the edition I have isn’t that common a one. I’d be curious as to how much it is actually worth, but I don’t have any illusions that it’s more than triple digits, and likely not that much

Yes, it’s the sentimental value that’s the main point here - another copy of the book in better condition still wouldn’t be worth as much to me because it wouldn’t share the family history.

Well, mice and parrots are not the usual archivar problems! I know this is going to sound like a Matrushka doll solution … but can you built a wooden boox from untreated, non-resin-containing wood like pine? You need to make it bigger than the cardboard box, but a wooden box should be mice-proof. Not rat-proof though, from what I know - you’d need a steel box, like the army chests, to place the cardboard box inside. (It’s difficult to make those yourself, though.)

Against water, a steel chest would also help, as long as you notice water problems and don’t let it rust. Otherwise, with a wooden box, put it where neither leaking water from the roof, nor water from burst pipe, can reach it immediatly, so maybe a dresser drawer or a shelf in an inside cupboard that doesn’t touch the walls.

!!!You don’t trust your museums or university / state libariers rare book sections? Wow, things are done differently. I’m not saying I would trust every student worker, but when I go to the rare book department and speak with the head of department over here, that’s somebody with either a Dipl. or Dr. title after years of education, who loves old books and revers them and knows how to properly care for them and values their worth to humankind, and who would take good care if I loan him a heirloom for one day to scan.
Sad that this option of back-up is not available to you.

If your house has problems with temp., mice and parrots and potential water damage, could you build the cardboard box and give it to some trustworthy member of the family or a close real friend who has less variables in his home?

Um… not really.

For one thing, it’s my book now. If I essentially gave it away then what’s the point of owning it at all? It would be someone else’s book. I do look at it from time to time, it’s not, as I said, an art object, it’s a book.

For another - I have two sisters. One was homeless for part of last year, the other has dogs, a roof that leaks worse than mine, and thus not a superior environment. My niece is a college student moving often.

Yes, we’re going through some rough times.

And a “back up” is useless to me - if the book is destroyed the value is destroyed. A copy would mean nothing, as it would not be the actual heirloom.

I didn’t mean to give it away, only to temporary store it in a better place, because I hope you are going to get a well-paying job soon and then can afford the necessary repairs (roof), buy a cabinet or get a cat against the rodents. Sorry to hear that your family also currently has problems.

Oh, try not to take personally - obviously I’m undergoing a stressful time right now and I’m trying to preserve what assets I still have. If I’m sounding a bit wiggy at times… well, I am.

I was at the scrapbookers today - they have some acid-free, allegedly archival quality plastic photo storage boxes that might even be the correct size. Between a cardboard box and a plastic outer shell that might do the job.

I have no experience in book preservation, but how about putting the book/carboard box inside of a small plastic pet carrier cage. It seems like it would allow for air flow, but potentially have small enough openings to keep your vermin out.
You could probably find a cheap one on craigs list.